Feb 29, 2024 - Technology

Humanoid robots draw millions from Bezos, OpenAI and more

The head and torso of a humanoid robot.

Figure 01, the first-generation humanoid robot from Sunnyvale, Calif. startup Figure. Photo courtesy of Figure

Humanoid robot startup Figure has drawn a $675 million investment from Jeff Bezos, AI chipmaker Nvidia, ChatGPT-maker OpenAI and others.

Why it matters: Bipedal robots with dexterous hands are joining the labor force this year, a trend that's expected to gain steam.

Driving the news: The infusion of capital for Figure, a Silicon Valley startup founded by "flying taxi" pioneer Brett Adcock, gives it a valuation of $2.6 billion.

  • Investors include Microsoft, the OpenAI Startup Fund, Nvidia, the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund and Jeff Bezos (through Bezos Expeditions).
  • Others include Parkway Venture Capital, Intel Capital, Align Ventures and ARK Invest.
  • The $675 million Series B funding round "will accelerate Figure's timeline for humanoid commercial deployment," the company said in a release.

The intrigue: Figure and OpenAI will also collaborate to develop next-generation AI models for humanoid robots.

  • This will combine "OpenAI's research with Figure's deep understanding of robotics hardware and software," the companies said.
  • The partnership "aims to help accelerate Figure's commercial timeline by enhancing the capabilities of humanoid robots to process and reason from language."
Figure robots are manufactured in a 30,000-square-foot facility in Sunnyvale, California. Photo courtesy of Figure.
Figure robots are manufactured in a 30,000-square-foot facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Photo courtesy of Figure

The big picture: There's an arms race among humanoid robot makers — which include Tesla and Boston Dynamics — to bring anthropomorphic machines into the workplace.

  • Figure's robots are joining BMW's production line.
  • Amazon is testing Digit, from Agility Robotics, for warehouse work.
  • NASA has a partnership with Apptronik to develop its humanoid robot (aptly named Apollo) for space exploration.
  • Sanctuary AI's robot Phoenix was named a TIME 2023 Best Invention after it "picked, packed, tagged, labeled, and folded clothes at a clothing store in Langley, Canada."
  • Other players readying humanoid robots for the workplace include 1X, which makes an android named EVE, and Hanson Robotics, whose well-mannered feminine robot is called Sophia.

Watch: See videos of Figure's robot moving a crate to a conveyor belt and making coffee, Tesla's Optimus taking a stroll and Sanctuary's Phoenix taking your blood pressure.

What they're saying: The big investment in Figure is "part of a scramble to find new applications for artificial intelligence," per Bloomberg, which broke the funding news.

  • "Robots have emerged as a critical new frontier for the AI industry, letting it apply cutting-edge technology to real-world tasks," Bloomberg's Mark Gurman and Gillian Tan wrote.

Between the lines: Humanoid robots' growing muscle raises new fears about taking away jobs from humans, though robotics companies assure us that they're meant for work that's too dangerous or repetitive for people.

  • A watchword in this corner of the robotics industry is "upskilling" — the idea that people who are replaced by robots will be trained for better and more fulfilling roles in the same field.

What's next: Humanoid robots are edging gingerly into actual workplaces, with companies kicking the tires before letting them loose beside flesh-and-blood workers.

  • "I think the next 24 months you'll start seeing humanoid robots in the real world," Adcock tells Axios.
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