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January 22, 2024

Figure and BMW's Robotic Revolution: Humanoid Innovation Hits the Factory Floor

Figure unveils a groundbreaking "commercial agreement" that catapults its inaugural humanoid robot

In a groundbreaking move that fuses cutting-edge technology with automotive prowess, Figure has unveiled a landmark "commercial agreement" with BMW, signaling the arrival of its first humanoid robot at the Spartanburg manufacturing facility in South Carolina. This sprawling 8 million-square-foot campus, BMW's sole production site in the United States, stands as a testament to German engineering excellence. As the robotics era gains momentum, this collaboration is set to redefine factory dynamics, introducing Figure 01 to perform a multitude of tasks that marry human-like dexterity with technological finesse.

While the exact number of Figure 01 models and their specific roles remain undisclosed, the partnership is set to kick off with five initial tasks, to be gradually introduced. The concept of "general-purpose" robotics is met with a dose of reality, emphasizing their evolution from single- to multi-purpose systems over time. CEO Brett Adcock likens this approach to an app store, akin to Boston Dynamics' Spot robot via SDK. Initial applications will likely include standard manufacturing tasks such as box moving, pick and place, and pallet handling, addressing the repetitive challenges that often challenge human workers' retention in factories.

Unlike some counterparts, Figure prioritizes the creation of a dexterous, human-like hand for manipulation. The rationale behind this design choice stems from aligning workspaces with human-centric design principles. Figure 01's tasks, starting with sheet metal work, are positioned to demand high dexterity, showcasing its potential to redefine precision-driven roles within the manufacturing landscape.

Training the humanoid robot involves a multifaceted approach, encompassing reinforcement learning, simulation, and teleoperation. Similar to human learning curves, Figure 01 will refine its capabilities through real-world testing, adapting and optimizing its performance in response to dynamic challenges. Whether these robotic systems become permanent fixtures in the BMW production line hinges on their ability to meet the automaker's stringent internal output expectations.

As Figure and BMW join forces in this robotics revolution, the factory floor witnesses the integration of innovation and efficiency. The advent of humanoid robots challenges traditional manufacturing norms, ushering in an era where technology and automotive giants converge to redefine the future of production. With Figure 01 set to learn, adapt, and perform tasks that mirror human dexterity, this collaboration paves the way for a new chapter in the evolution of smart manufacturing. The robotics-as-a-service model ensures adaptability, reflecting a commitment to a future where human-machine collaboration transforms the way we build the cars of tomorrow.

Neil Hodgson Coyle
Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Editorial chief at TechNews180
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