The US startup Figure AI combines AI with robotics. People are also working on bipedal androids in Europe. The developer race is now in full swing.

Figure AI develops humanoid robots that are designed to relieve people of difficult, dangerous or monotonous work. The robots are almost 1.68 meters tall, weigh 60 kilograms and can lift around 20 kilograms.
Figure A.I.

The list of investors reads like the league of extraordinary gentlemen: Microsoft, OpenAI, Nvidia, Jeff Bezos and other tech companies have invested around 675 million US dollars (627.8 million euros) in the US startup Figure AI, which was only founded in 2022. This values ​​the company at $2.6 billion, the startup from Sunnyvale, California, announced on its Linkedin page. “Our vision at Figure is to bring humanoid robots into commercial operation as quickly as possible,” said Brett Adcock, founder and CEO of Figure AI, according to the release. The collaboration with OpenAI will help accelerate Figure's timeline.

Figure AI develops humanoid robots that are designed to relieve people of difficult, dangerous or monotonous work. The company relies on a combination of robotics and AI. About a month ago, the company posted a video online that shows the Figure 01 robot putting a coffee capsule into a machine and pressing the start button.

The robot can correct itself if the capsule gets caught during insertion. So far, so unspectacular. What is spectacular about the robot's work is that it is said to have learned this activity in just ten hours by watching videos of how to use the coffee machine. The startup itself speaks of an “end to end neural network” without explaining it further. This is an AI model that learns the steps between the initial input phase and the final output result. It is a deep learning process in which all the different parts are trained at the same time rather than one after the other.

AI robots recognize differences themselves

In another video, Figure 01 drags sorting boxes from a stack onto a conveyor belt. Millions of jobs like this are carried out in logistics warehouses every day.

The special thing about the AI ​​robot is that the data about the condition of the box does not have to be specified separately. So far, the use of robots in logistics warehouses has mainly failed because they were overwhelmed by sorting objects of different shapes.

Apparently, Microsoft, OpenAI and other investors are confident that Figure AI can overcome these challenges. “We always intended to return to robotics, and with Figure we see a way to explore what humanoid robots can achieve when powered by high-performance multimodal models,” said Peter Welinder, VP of Product and Partnerships at OpenAI, in a statement from the company. OpenAI stopped developing its own robots in 2021.

BMW wants to test robots

A German company could be the first to test human-like robots. In mid-January 2024, the car manufacturer BMW and Figure AI signed a partnership to use robots in the US factory in Spartenburg, South Carolina. It was the startup's first commercial contract. Adcock announced at the time that they would start with small quantities and expand them. “Figure’s robots will enable companies to increase productivity and reduce costs,” Adcock continued. Robert Engelhorn, BMW plant manager in Spartenburg, made a similar statement: “The use of universal robotic solutions has the potential to make productivity more efficient, meet the growing demands of our consumers and enable our team to focus on the transformation that lies ahead .” BMW produces its large SUV models in the US factory.

Company boss Adcock is also the founder of the air taxi manufacturer Archer Aviation from San Jose, California, which has just started producing the first three near-production Midnight eVTOL air taxis. The big tech companies apparently trust Adcock to lead the robot manufacturer Figure AI, which currently employs 80 people, to success.

Developer race

A few days ago, details about the current financing leaked into the public. According to a report from Bloomberg: Bezos has committed $100 million through his company Explore Investments and Microsoft is investing $95 million, while Nvidia and an Amazon-affiliated fund are each providing $50 million. The rest goes to other companies such as the chip manufacturer Intel, which was already involved in a financing round in May.

The US online retailer Amazon is already using humanoid robots in its warehouses. The two-legged robot Digit from Agility Robotics can lift and move boxes. And the US company Boston Dynamics has also developed a robot that moves with a crane-like arm on wheels. “Just because people can move boxes doesn’t mean we’re the best form factor for the job,” said Aaron Saunders, CTO of Boston Dynamics. The leading AI robot developers currently include Tesla with the Optimus Bot and Sanctuary AI with its robot Phoenix. Both have already proven that their systems are running stably. In Europe, the Norwegian startup 1XRaise is working on a bipedal android. Last year, OpenAI also invested in this startup. So it's a race between different developers. The big tech companies invest in all these startups so that they profit in the end one way or another.


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