Drives & Controls April 2024

26 n ROBOTS April 2024 Humanoid robots are stepping into industry In recent years, millions of YouTube viewers have marvelled at the capabilities of the humanoid robots being developed by Boston Dynamics. We have watched in awe at their ability to perform acrobatics, dance and carry loads. Their capabilities have improved over time, but they have been regarded largely as technological curiosities – not practical machines that could be deployed to perform useful tasks in factories and warehouses. But a urry of developments in recent months have indicated that humanoid robots are starting to make their way into real factory and warehouse environments. Car-makers, in particular, are showing great interest in introducing humanoids to their shopoors. BMW, Mercedes and the Chinese automotive manufacturer Nio are all exploring the possibility of deploying these machines in their plants. A year ago, economists at Goldman Sachs Research released a report predicting that the global market for humanoid robots would amount to $6bn as soon as 2035. Now, a year later, they have released another report, this time predicting that the market will be worth $38bn by 2035 – a six-fold increase – with 1.4 million humanoid robots likely to be shipped a year by then – a four-fold increase on last year’s forecast. The researchers are also predicting that the sector will become proŽtable much sooner than they were expecting a year ago. The researchers o‘er several reasons for their drastically revised Žgures, including a 40% reduction in the costs of materials, the accelerating progress in AI (artiŽcial intelligence), and investment in the humanoid sector expanding much faster than they had previously anticipated. “AI progress surprised us the most,”the team says in the new report*, referring to advances such as robotic large language models (LLMs). They point out that there’s been signiŽcant progress in end-to-end AI, through which models can train themselves, removing the need for human engineers to code everything by hand. That’s speeding up robot development, allowing these devices to handle more tasks and to adapt to new situations (such as working outside of factories) more quickly. Perhaps the most dramatic example of the money now being poured into developing humanoid robots comes from a two-year-old Californian start-up called Figure, which has yet to produce a commercial product but has recently attracted $675m of funding from a group that includes Microsoft, nVidia, Intel and Amazon boss, Je‘ Bezos. Figure is also working with the ChatGPT developer OpenAI to integrate AI capabilities into its humanoids. Goldman Sachs says there are signs that key robot components – ranging from highprecision gears to actuators – could also cost A urry of recent announcements suggest that humanoid robots are starting to make the transition from laboratories to factories and warehouses, with the help of AI. A major bank has dramatically revised its predictions for the size of the humanoid market, and is now forecasting that it will be worth $38bn by 2035 – a six-fold increase on what it was suggesting just a year ago. The American humanoid robot manufacturer, Figure, is working with the ChatGPT developer, OpenAI, to produce robots that understand spoken commands