Drives & Controls April 2024

27 April 2024 much less than previously expected, leading to faster commercialisation. The manufacturing cost of humanoid robots has dropped – from a range that ran between around $50,000 (for lower-end models) to $250,000 (for state-of-the art versions) last year, to $30,000–$150,000 now. A year ago, the analysts had expected costs to fall by 15-20% a year when, in reality, these costs have fallen by around 40% over the past year alone. “We expect further cost reduction in the coming years,” the report states. As well as cheaper components, there are now more supply chain options, and designs and manufacturing techniques have improved, it adds. This could, in turn, speed up the timeline to the deployment of humanoid robots in factory applications by about a year, and in consumer applications by two to four years, compared to last year’s estimates. The researchers’base case is now for more than 250,000 humanoid robots to be shipped annually by 2030 – almost all of which would be for use in industry. Sales of consumer robots will ramp up quickly over the coming decade, with more than a million of them being shipped annually in just over a decade. Medical uses, and commercial applications such as folding laundry, will also beneŠt. Geographically, no one country or region appears to be dominating this emerging sector. While Western companies are likely have the most sophisticated AI software models, Asia will probably become the manufacturing hub for humanoid components, because of its wide supply chain base and lower manufacturing costs. Another reason that Goldman Sachs Research is more optimistic about the prospects for the sector is that more players are pouring resources into developing and manufacturing humanoid robots. The Chinese government has launched a fund to drive robot R&D, while component-makers are recruiting sta” and devoting capital and human resources to their activities. According to Goldman Sachs, most of the hardware needed to create humanoid robots is already available, or close to maturity. Components such as cameras, motors, force sensors, precision gears and batteries are mostly ready for commercial use. But there are still hurdles to overcome. Some key components, for example, need to be made on precision grinding machines that are limited in number, making it di–cult to ramp up production. Costs for some components are still high because of restricted production capacities or long manufacturing cycle times. And there are still signiŠcant bottlenecks in the development of AI and the software needed for robot manipulation, such as grasping objects and human interaction – accepting spoken commands without needing training, for example. Goldman Sachs is optimistic that these remaining barriers will eventually be overcome, leading to massproduced, general-purpose humanoid robots, although it concedes that the viability of such machines has yet to be proven. The bank expects signiŠcant demand for humanoid robots in structured environments such as manufacturing using technologies that are available today. This could include applications such as assembling electric vehicles and sorting components. About 70% of manufacturing in China is already done by machinery and automation, while only 20% is handled by manual labour, and 10% done by managers. Because humanoids are more ˜exible and capable of adapting to complex environments, the analysts believe that bipedal robots can expand the industrial automation market. Humanoids are particularly appealing for tasks that are dangerous, dirty, and dull, the report states. The Goldman Sachs researchers envisage potential demand for the walking robots in areas such as mining, disaster rescue, nuclear reactor maintenance, and chemicals manufacturing. They point out that users in these sectors may be willing to pay a higher price for robots that can do dangerous jobs that people are reluctant to perform. In addition, robots could also augment labour in sectors experiencing shortages of human workers. Assuming a labour substitution rate of 515% for car manufacturing, as well as for dangerous jobs such as disaster rescue and working in nuclear power plants, the reports predicts an annual global demand for 1.1–3.5 million humanoid robots in a decade from now. The analysts suggest the best investment opportunities at present could lie in the component manufacturers that are vital to the humanoid supply chain. In a “blue-sky” scenario, in which innovation unfolds rapidly and demand soars, Goldman Sachs Research envisage humanoid robots becoming the next “must-have”device, similar to smartphones or EVs. Such robots would become vital for manufacturing and dangerous work, but they would also help with caring for the elderly and Šll in for labour shortages in factories. The report identiŠes and compares nine established non-Chinese humanoid robot developers – mainly the US – including Tesla, Boston Dynamics and Kawasaki. Their robots can move at speeds of up to 3m/s, and operate with up to 74 degrees of freedom. But there are also at least ten humanoid robot developers at work in China, and there may be others which have not yet been made public. According to Goldman Sachs’revised forecast, humanoid robots could reach twoyear paybacks in some factory applications as soon as 2025-2026 (up to two years sooner than it was suggesting a year ago). In consumer applications, two-year paybacks could be a reality by 2028-2031 – compared to the 2030-2035 timeframe that the bank was quoting last year. n *The report, Humanoid Robot: the AI Accelerant, can be downloaded from ROBOTS n Tesla is one of a handful of automotive manufacturers designing their own humanoid robots. It has had to develop many of the precision components needed for its Optimus Gen 2 robot in-house. Amazon is testing bipedal robots from the US developer Agility Robotics for tasks such as tote recycling