Figure’s Humanoid Robot Can Already Work Autonomously, So BMW Put It to Task

  • A BMW has a new “employee” capable of working long hours without a break.

  • Named Figure 01, the robot works in a BMW factory in California.

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We’re witnessing how robotics is evolving and becoming increasingly integrated into our lives. While we can’t go to a store and buy advanced androids like in the game Detroit: Become Human yet, we do have robotic vacuum cleaners that help keep our floors clean. Additionally, most of the cars around us are likely produced using highly robotized production lines.

In fact, robotics has been a reality in the automotive sector for a long time. Although the Industrial Revolution marked a significant change in production processes, it wasn’t until the 1960s that industrial robots began to gain popularity, taking on tasks such as welding, assembling, and riveting parts. Now, a new type of robot, the humanoid robot, seems to be on the horizon.

A Humanoid Robot on the Production Line

In recent years, several companies have been working on developing humanoid robots, that is, machines that resemble humans. Examples include Tesla’s Optimus Gen 2 and Xiaomi’s CyberOne. However, these robots have seldom been used in real-life situations. This changed when a U.S. company called Figure deployed its advanced robot at a BMW car factory in South Carolina.

In January 2024, Figure finalized a deal with BMW Manufacturing to implement its robots on automotive production lines. This is an intriguing development because it aims to further automate the vehicle manufacturing process, which currently involves industrial robots. At this point, why use human-shaped robots?

Figure robot

Figure and other companies in the industry believe that many environments are designed for humans, not just in factories but in the world in general. Humanoid robots, with their human-like form, could handle “difficult, unsafe, or tedious tasks” without altering existing environments while potentially improving production efficiency.

Figure robot

Figure’s robot, called Figure 01, is described as a “general purpose humanoid robot.” This means it’s not designed for a specific task, like assembling a certain part in a factory, but rather that it can perform a wide range of activities, such as interacting with humans and carrying out household chores.

Figure's robot

As a result, the robot can also move around various rooms, open doors, climb stairs, and lift boxes. This skill set is currently being tested at BMW’s factory in Spartanburg, California, where the robot has shown significant advancement since its launch in February 2022.

The Figure 01 robot manipulates parts in the BMW factory using a neural network that assigns pixels to each action. This system also ensures precise movements. Additionally, the robot can self-correct errors, such as the misplacement of a part, without the need for remote control. In essence, the robot operates autonomously.

However, humanoid robots still have room for improvement. Figure 01, for instance, performs tasks with slow movements and relies on a tethered power supply cable. Whether humanoid robots are here to stay remains uncertain. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is sure about its future and suggests that, because of the potential of its Optimus robot, the company’s worth could surpass that of Microsoft or Apple.

Image | Figure AI

Related | Japan Has the Key to the Next Evolution of Robots: Wrapping Them in Human Skin

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