BMW has signed a first-of-its-kind deal to put “humanoid” robots to work at one of its factories. The robots, which are designed to be more operationally flexible than traditional industrial robots, will supposedly assist the luxury car manufacturer with various parts of the manufacturing process.
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The robots in question were designed by California robotics firm FigureAI and are described as being “general purpose”—meaning they can be used for any number of physical tasks. The bipedal bot, which is simply dubbed the “Figure 01,” stands 5’6″ tall, weighs 130 pounds, and has five-fingered hands that the company claims can be used to physically construct objects. On its YouTube channel, Figure has a video of the robot making coffee. Another video shows the bot swiftly walking across a room using its two sturdy legs.
That said, it’s not entirely clear what the bots will actually be doing in this case. The related press release speaks of the “deployment of humanoid robots in an automotive manufacturing environment” and claims the robots will focus on “difficult, unsafe, or tedious tasks,” all of which sounds pretty vague.
The press release further states that, as part of the first phase of the deal, the two companies will work together to “identify initial use cases to apply the Figure robots in automotive production.” Again, the wording here sorta makes it sound like both companies are a bit unclear on what the robots will actually be doing. After the two firms finally agree on what the Figure 01 can do, some of the bots will be deployed to one of BMW’s manufacturing facilities in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“Single-purpose robotics have saturated the commercial market for decades, but the potential of general-purpose robotics is completely untapped,” said Figure’s CEO Brett Adcock. “Figure’s robots will enable companies to increase productivity, reduce costs, and create a safer and more consistent environment.”
Figure has been steadily unveiling photos and videos of its new worker:
Tech companies throughout the world are currently in a race to churn out the first generation of “humanoid” robots. While robots have helped out in factories and warehouses for years, the human form factor of this newer iteration of robots is thought to have many added benefits for more complicated forms of industrial work. This has, of course, spurred concerns that the robots will (eventually) take a lot of human jobs. Figure’s CEO has claimed that his company has no interest in taking jobs away from people—which is, of course, what he would say.
Gizmodo reached out to Figure for more details about the deal and will update this story if it responds.