Human-shaped robots with dexterous hands will be staffing warehouses and retail stores, tending to the elderly, and performing household chores within a decade or so, according to a Silicon Valley startup working toward that vision.
Demographic trends — such as a persistent labor shortage and the growing elder care crisis — make fully functioning, AI-driven humanoid robots look tantalizingly appealing.
According to Axios, Companies such as Amazon are reportedly worried about running out of warehouse workers, whose jobs are physically and mentally demanding with high attrition.
A heavy-hitting startup called Figure, which just emerged from stealth mode, is building a prototype of a humanoid robot that the company says will eventually be able to walk, climb stairs, open doors, use tools, and lift boxes — perhaps even make dinner.
The company is the brainchild of Brett Adcock, a tech entrepreneur who previously founded Archer Aviation (a “flying taxi” maker that went public) and Vettery (an online hiring marketplace that he and a partner sold for $100 million).
He’s assembled an all-star team of 40, including leading roboticists from Boston Dynamics and Tesla. They’ve moved into a 30,000-square-foot facility in Sunnyvale, California, where they plan to set up a mock warehouse to test their prototype.
“We just got done in December with our full-scale humanoid,” Adcock tells Axios. “We’ll be walking that in the next 30 days.”
Where it stands: The prototype — called Figure 01 — stands about 5’6″ and weighs 130 pounds.
It’ll be fully electric, run for five hours on a charge, and is intended for warehouse use. “We think we can get into commercial operation within a few years,” Adcock tells Axios. “We should be able to do most jobs — physical labor jobs that humans don’t want to do.”
Yes, but: Humanoid robots are staggeringly difficult to build and engineer to perform reliably.
There are a host of design challenges, from simple balance to replicating human movements. “We need to be able to push it and have it not fall down,” says Adcock about the Figure 01. (Boston Dynamics has plenty of robot blooper videos on YouTube.) From there, programming a robot to move boxes in a warehouse is a lot easier than, say, engineering it to cook a meal.