Humanoid Robot Startup Valued At $2.6 Billion

Figure AI is a new startup firm, which is working to build humanoid robots that can perform dangerous and undesirable jobs. Now, Figure AI has just got support from some of the largest names in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Founded in 2022, Figure AI has developed a general-purpose robot, called Figure 01, that looks and moves like a human. The company said recently that it had already raised $675 million at a $2.6 billion valuation from investors including Jeff Bezos, Nvidia, Microsoft, Parkway Venture Capital, Intel Capital, Align Ventures and Amazon’s $1 billion Industrial Innovation Fund.   

The company sees its robots being put to use in manufacturing, shipping and logistics, warehousing, and retail, “where labor shortages are the most severe,” though its machines aren’t intended for military or defense applications.

To allow robots to work in any space designed for people, the company developed Figure 01, a robot that looks and moves like a human. The company says that it sees robots as safely being used in manufacturing, shipping, logistics, warehouses and retail, anywhere humans can work.

Because the robot looks and works exactly like a human, these spaces do not need to be retrofitted or changed to work with the robot.

Recently, the company released a video showing Figure 01 in action. The robot, attached to a tether, walks on two legs, and uses its five-fingered hands to pick up a plastic crate, then walks several more steps before placing the box on a conveyor belt.

Figure’s ultimate aim is for Figure 01 to be able to perform “everyday tasks autonomously.”

The company says getting there will require it to develop more robust AI systems.

Meanwhile, Figure is part of a crowded field of companies vying to make humanoid robots a reality. Amazon-backed Agility Robotics aims to open a factory that can produce up to 10,000 of its bipedal Digit robots per year.

Tesla is also trying to build a humanoid robot, called Optimus, while robotics company Boston Dynamics has developed several models. Norwegian humanoid robot startup 1X Technologies recently raised $100 million with backing from OpenAI.

The market is nascent. Analysts at Goldman Sachs expect the humanoid robot market to reach $38 billion by 2035, and project that more than 250,000 units could be shipped in 2030. “Right now we’re at an early curve where there’s loads of interest in humanoids, and I think that will continue for a while,” said Tom Andersson, co-founder and principal analyst of STIQ Ltd., which publishes research on robotics and retail technologies. Andersson said there will need to be “several step changes” before it can be rolled out broadly.

As part of the deal announced recently, Figure said it’s partnering with ChatGPT maker OpenAI to “develop next generation AI models for humanoid robots.” It will also use Microsoft’s Azure cloud services for AI infrastructure, training and storage, Figure said.

Humanoid robots require expensive components such as actuators, motors and sensors to function. Goldman researchers say those costs are expected to come down in the coming years, noting they’ve already dropped to between $30,000 and $150,000 per unit, from a range of $50,000 to $250,000 per unit last year.

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