BMW Partners with Figure for Groundbreaking Humanoid Robots in Manufacturing

by | Jan 23, 2024 | Humanoid

BMW, the automotive giant has inked a commercial deal with robotics startup Figure, paving the way for the deployment of their “general-purpose” humanoid robot at BMW’s manufacturing facilities, starting in Spartanburg, South Carolina. This move puts BMW in direct competition with Tesla and other automakers embracing humanoid robots to further automate their tech-filled facilities. As the era of robots dawns, the exact roles these humanoid robots will play in factories remain uncertain.

How Figure’s Robot Works

The Figure robot stands at 5’6″ and weighs 130 pounds, a bipedal metal powerhouse capable of lifting 45 pounds and walking at speeds up to 2.7 miles per hour. Figure envisions its Figure 01 model, with a five-hour operating time before recharging, automating challenging, unsafe, or tedious tasks in the manufacturing process. While specific tasks for the humanoid robots at BMW’s factory are yet to be disclosed, Figure anticipates a wide range of applications.

The agreement between BMW and Figure involves multiple phases. Initially, the companies will identify use cases for the robots, followed by staged deployment at the Spartanburg facility. BMW is exploring potential applications, citing situations where the robot’s dexterity could be beneficial, such as gripping objects with two hands. While there’s no specific timetable, the spokesperson emphasizes BMW’s commitment to embracing innovative technology for enhanced efficiency.

A spokesperson for Figure aims for the robots to be operational in the BMW manufacturing facility by 2024.

Generalist Humanoid Robots

Unlike traditional single-purpose robots, humanoid robots by Figure and similar manufacturers are designed to act as generalists, capable of walking factory floors and performing various tasks. Equipped with hands for opening doors and using tools, and arms and legs for climbing stairs and lifting heavy boxes, these robots mark a shift towards more versatile automation. Figure’s Founder and CEO, Brett Adcock, sees the untapped potential of general-purpose robotics, envisioning increased productivity, cost reduction, and a safer working environment.

Figure utilizes AI to create “intelligent embodied agents” capable of interacting in unstructured real-world scenarios. A recent video demonstrates the Figure robot using AI to learn tasks, such as making coffee, after ingesting hours of footage.

Racing Towards the Future

BMW’s collaboration with Figure follows Tesla’s announcement three years ago to introduce AI-enabled humanoid robots. While Tesla’s prototypes, like “Optimus,” share similarities with Figure’s model, the practical applications remain unclear. The interest in humanoid robots extends beyond automakers, with Hyundai acquiring Boston Dynamics and Amazon testing bi-pedal humanoid robots from Digit for warehouse tasks.

Rising Interest in Robots

The surge in interest in humanoid robots stems from automakers seeking to offset increasing labor costs. The United Auto Workers Union’s recent contract with major automakers includes a 25% wage increase over four years, prompting car manufacturers to explore automation as a cost-cutting measure. Though costly and untested for reliability, humanoid robots present an intriguing prospect for carmakers looking to outperform trained humans in car manufacturing.

Despite the sci-fi allure of an ever-efficient robot workforce, the reality remains speculative. Even Figure’s robot, amidst its capabilities, requires periodic breaks, walking itself to a charging station every few hours.

by: Bill Parson

by: Bill Parson

Bill is an accomplished editor with a passion for robotics and emerging technologies. With a keen eye for detail and a knack for concise communication, he plays a pivotal role in developing and publishing content for SimplyBots. His deep interest in the field of robotics stems from his fascination with the potential of intelligent machines to transform various aspects of our lives.

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