Sat. Dec 9th, 2023
    Is the Future of Robotics Human-Like or Human-Centric?

    Robots that resemble humans have always been a fascination in science fiction, and the quest to build such humanoid machines has become a popular topic in the field of artificial intelligence. While the latest AI craze has sparked investments in building human-like robots, most current prototypes are impractical and clumsy, better suited for staged performances than real-life applications. Despite these challenges, a handful of startups remain committed to the development of these robots.

    However, the question arises: do we even need human-like robots? Jonathan Hurst, co-founder and chief robot officer at Agility Robotics, believes that the focus should be on making robots that can effectively operate in human spaces, rather than trying to replicate the physical appearance of a human. Agility Robotics’ warehouse robot, Digit, exemplifies this approach. It may not have the full humanoid appearance, but it is capable of picking up tote bins and moving them with great efficiency. In fact, Amazon has already announced that it will be testing Digits in its warehouses.

    On the other hand, some robot-makers, like Figure AI, believe that true humanoids are necessary to navigate workplaces, homes, and a society built for humans. They plan to develop a commercial robot that can perform multiple tasks to fill the gaps left by the declining global birth rates. However, Figure AI is still in the early stages and does not have a market-ready prototype.

    Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk has joined the race to build a humanoid robot called Optimus. Despite a live demonstration last year that received mixed reviews, Musk remains determined to make progress in this field. Meanwhile, Boston Dynamics, a leading company in legged robots, has taken a different path. While initially focused on building a humanoid robot, the company discovered that changes to the design led to a new robot that was more efficient and versatile in handling tasks.

    The development of humanoid robots also raises important questions about how people respond to them and the underlying technologies required for mobility, dexterity, perception, and intelligence. It provides valuable insights into the capabilities and limitations of robotic systems. Startups like Sanctuary AI are focusing on improving the dexterity of robotic fingers before tackling the challenge of walking, recognizing the importance of manipulating objects in the physical world.

    Overall, the debate between human-like and human-centric robots continues. The future of robotics may lie in finding a balance between these two approaches. Whether robots resemble humans or not, their ability to effectively operate in human spaces and assist with various tasks will determine their acceptance and impact on society.


    1. What is the difference between human-like and human-centric robots?

    Human-like robots aim to replicate the physical appearance of humans, while human-centric robots focus on operating effectively in human spaces without necessarily looking like humans.

    2. Are there practical applications for humanoid robots?

    Yes, humanoid robots have the potential to navigate workplaces, homes, and society built for humans. They can perform tasks that are currently facing a shortage of human workers.

    3. Why are some robot-makers focusing on improving robotic fingers?

    Manipulating objects in the physical world is considered more challenging than walking. Therefore, some startups are prioritizing the development of dexterous robotic fingers before tackling the problem of locomotion.

    4. How are humanoid robots being used in warehouses?

    Companies like Agility Robotics have developed robots that can pick up and move items, such as tote bins, in warehouse environments. These robots aim to assist with repetitive tasks and increase efficiency.

    5. Will humanoid robots replace human workers?

    The goal of humanoid robots is to complement human workers rather than replace them entirely. These robots are designed to perform tasks that are difficult or undesirable for humans, allowing humans to focus on more complex and fulfilling roles.