Humanoid robots are a timeless concept, but their popularity fluctuates over time. Tesla’s Optimus prototype has reignited the debate over general-purpose robot form, efficacy, and viability. In an interview this week, Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert said, “I thought that they’d gotten a lot more done than I expected, and they still have a long way to go.”
It revived the debate. Last week, Playground Global partner Peter Barrett told me that our bodies aren’t efficient or well-designed, even if they were good enough to outsmart or outrun a woolly mammoth. However, we built our environment with us in mind, so it makes sense that we would make robots in our image to do our jobs.
Figure, released this week from stealth, is in the second camp. We announced the startup in September. The startup, founded and funded by Archer co-founder Brett Adcock, is building a general-purpose bipedal humanoid robot. Of course, this dream is difficult. No one has cracked the code despite trying.
The new company has 40 talented employees.
“The team is ex-Boston Dynamics, Tesla, Apple SPG, IHMC, Cruise, and Alphabet X.” Adcock tells, “We agree on improving humanity through AI and robotics.” We’ve hired the world’s best in AI, controls, electrical integration, software, and mechanical systems. The team believes we can commercialize robots that have been in R&D for two decades. Our team has long wanted to do this.”
In Sunnyvale, the company is testing its December alpha robot build. The company’s Figure 01 images resemble Tesla’s robot announcement renderings.
“We believe this is at the forefront of any electromechanical humanoid in history,” Adcock says. Our second-generation humanoid robot will be commercially ready. The Figure team’s next milestone is commercial humanoid validation.
The system currently performs many manual labor tasks. Industrial robotics includes warehouse/fulfillment/logistics, manufacturing, and retail. The goal is “general purpose,” but there are reasons robots have been built for single, repeatable tasks. The company may follow Spot’s hardware-as-platform model.
“Our vision is to build horizontal hardware that scales to many applications,” Adcock says. “We believe humanoids will revolutionize a variety of industries, from corporate labor roles to home assistance, elderly care, and building new worlds on other planets. However, manufacturing, shipping and logistics, warehousing, and retail—where labor shortages are the worst—will be our first applications. Optimizing our business model to generate revenue quickly is crucial.
He didn’t comment on Tesla’s systems, but emerging players will show the form factor’s potential and challenges.