on May 16th, 2024

These artificial intelligence (AI) bots backed by OpenAI, Tesla, and Amazon could be your new coworkers, and one of them is set to change how engineers do things.

Humanoid robotics represents the culmination of a long journey in technological advancement. From the assembly lines of automotive plants to the operating rooms of hospitals, robotics has steadily integrated into various sectors, streamlining processes and enhancing efficiency.

However, the advent of humanoid robots heralds a new era—one where machines not only perform tasks but also interact and collaborate with humans on a deeper level.

In 2015, Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF), prophesied a fourth industrial revolution—a convergence of technologies like advanced robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things. Schwab envisioned a future where “general-purpose robots are as ubiquitous as cars,” fundamentally altering how we live, work, and interact.

Doctor Arti Siddhpura, a lecturer at the Engineering Institute of Technology

Doctor Arti Siddhpura, a lecturer at the Engineering Institute of Technology’s School of Mechanical Engineering, noted that as we witness the emergence of versatile creations like Figure 01 and Electric Atlas, it’s clear that these humanoids are not just novelties but powerful tools reshaping industries from manufacturing to logistics.

“Their integration into various sectors heralds a future where collaboration between human ingenuity and AI becomes the norm, propelling us toward unprecedented levels of productivity and innovation,” she said.

However, Dr. Siddhpura cautioned that it’s crucial to approach this advancement responsibly, considering the broader societal implications and ensuring equitable outcomes for all members of society, as emphasized by Klaus Schwab and echoed in the article’s conclusion.

Traditionally, robots in factories were task-specific—a robotic arm might weld car parts repetitively. But humanoid robots transcend this, mimicking human size, shape, and adaptability, ideal for any workspace. Their integration into our environments promises seismic shifts.

These humanoids aren’t just revolutionizing specific tasks; they’re reshaping entire industries, from manufacturing to healthcare to customer service. Their ability to work alongside humans, learn from them, and adapt to dynamic environments will not only enhance productivity but also unlock new levels of innovation.

As engineers, we stand on the cusp of a new era. These humanoids will not only augment our capabilities but also redefine how we approach problem-solving and innovation. Collaboration between human intellect and AI will become the norm, propelling us toward unprecedented heights of creativity and achievement.

The Eight Set to Change Industry and Engineering

Over the years, humanoid robots like ASIMO, Pepper, and Sophia have captivated audiences with their human-like interactions and abilities, primarily for entertainment purposes.

However, the latest addition to the roster, Figure 01, powered by OpenAI, is poised to surpass its predecessors in both capability and impact, leaving even renowned creations like Tesla’s Optimus and Boston Dynamics’ Atlas in awe—all within a remarkably brief timeframe of less than two years.

But the pace of innovation doesn’t stop there. An entire cohort of humanoid robots is primed to step into the workforce, each with its own potential to redefine industries and revolutionize engineering practices. Here are the fortunate eight contenders:

Figure 01: With a versatile design catering to manufacturing, warehousing, logistics, and retail sectors, Figure 01 has already found its first deployment at a BMW manufacturing plant. A substantial investment round in February 2024, including contributions from OpenAI, Microsoft, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is set to accelerate its commercial deployment.

Electric Atlas: Developed for real-world applications, the electric Atlas marks a departure from its hydraulic predecessor, focusing on practical deployment. Boston Dynamics (a robotics company known for innovative designs in dynamic robots) plans to explore its capabilities at a Hyundai manufacturing facility, targeting proof-of-technology testing by 2025 and collaborating with customers to explore additional applications.

Phoenix: Sanctuary (the creator of Phoenix) strives for Phoenix to replicate human capabilities across different tasks and environments. Initial trials with auto parts manufacturer Magna indicate the possibility of extensive adoption, outlining an intriguing vision for future applications of robotics.

Digit: Initially tested for last-mile deliveries by Ford in 2019, Digit found its way into Amazon’s warehouses by 2023, facilitating the movement of empty totes. Agility’s (the company behind Digit) ambitious plans include constructing a manufacturing plant capable of producing over 10,000 Digit robots annually, set to open in 2024.

Apollo: Mercedes-Benz has announced intentions to employ Apollo robots at manufacturing facilities, while Apptronik envisions broader applications spanning construction, electronics production, retail, elder care, and more. Collaborating with NASA, Apptronik (the robotics company collaborating with Mercedes-Benz on Apollo) seeks to adapt Apollo for space missions, showcasing its versatility and potential impact across diverse environments.

Eve: Introduced by 1X CEO Bernt Bornich in May 2023, Eve has already taken on roles as a security guard at industrial sites and is slated for further deployment in retail and logistics. With backing from investors like OpenAI and plans for the bipedal Neo in development, 1X envisions a future where Eve becomes ubiquitous in various sectors.

Optimus Gen 2: Tesla’s Optimus Gen 2 targets tasks deemed repetitive, boring, or dangerous, suggesting applications in auto manufacturing and beyond. Recent developments hint at imminent field tests, with Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk expressing optimism about potential customer shipments by 2025.

H1: Though lacking in dexterity, H1’s emphasis on mobility hints at applications in security or inspections. Unitree’s (the robotics company specializing in legged robots like H1) innovative approach includes plans for flexible fingers as add-on options, offering potential versatility at a surprisingly accessible price point.

These humanoid robots represent not just technological advancements, but harbingers of a new era in industry and engineering. As they integrate into our workplaces, they promise to reshape the very fabric of how we work, collaborate, and innovate, ushering in a future limited only by our imagination

Shaping the Future of Engineering with Humanoid Robotics

In addition to their broad impact on industries, these general-purpose humanoids hold the promise of transforming specific fields of engineering, from mechanical and civil to electrical and biomedical. Let’s take a glimpse into how they might revolutionize each domain:

Mechanical Engineering: Humanoid robots like Figure 01 and Apollo are poised to redefine the landscape of mechanical engineering. In manufacturing settings, they could streamline assembly processes, augmenting human workers with their precision and strength. Their ability to adapt to dynamic environments also opens doors to new applications in product testing and quality control.

Civil Engineering: Imagine humanoid robots like Eve and Digit aiding in construction projects, from laying foundations to transporting materials. With their dexterity and mobility, they could navigate complex terrain, enhancing efficiency and safety on job sites. Additionally, their integration into infrastructure inspection could revolutionize maintenance practices, ensuring the longevity of bridges, roads, and buildings.

Phoenix: set to replicate human capabilities across different tasks and environments

Electrical Engineering: The potential of humanoid robots in electrical engineering lies in their ability to perform tasks in hazardous or hard-to-reach environments. Electric Atlas, for example, could assist in wiring installations in tight spaces or high-risk areas. Moreover, their data collection capabilities could be leveraged for predictive maintenance of electrical systems, minimizing downtime and improving reliability.

As we navigate this transformative era, it’s crucial to consider the broader implications of humanoid robotics. While they offer unprecedented opportunities for efficiency and innovation, they also raise concerns about job displacement and income inequality. Responsible adoption and governance of these technologies are essential to ensure equitable outcomes for all members of society.

As WEF’s founder Klaus Schwab emphasized, shaping the future requires collective action and thoughtful decision-making. By harnessing the power of humanoid robotics responsibly, we can steer towards a future that aligns with our shared objectives and values, ushering in an era of promise and potential for all.

References:

Will Robots Take Over Engineering Jobs?

Meet the humanoids: 8 robots ready to revolutionize work

The Future of Robotics: How Robots Will Transform Our Lives

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