Robotics startup Figure has signed an agreement with automotive giant BMW to bring its humanoid robots into manufacturing facilities, a major step toward autonomous machines working alongside humans.
Under the commercial agreement announced today, Figure will begin staging deployment of its Figure 01 robot at BMW’s factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina later this year. The goal is to have the robots take over certain repetitive or dangerous jobs to improve productivity and safety on the factory floor.
“The potential of general purpose robotics is completely untapped,” said Brett Adcock, CEO and co-founder of Figure. “Our robots will enable companies to increase productivity, reduce costs, and create a safer and more consistent environment."
Initially, a small number of Figure 01 units will be focused on five specific tasks in sheet metal handling chosen based on their need for dexterity. The jobs will be rolled out one by one as the robots refine their skills through onsite learning. Their training regimen will involve a mix of simulation, teleoperation, and reinforcement learning.
Over time, BMW and Figure aim to have the AI-driven humanoids take over other suitable manufacturing jobs. The nimble bots could potentially handle box moving, pick and place assignments, pallet loading, and other repetitive tasks that the carmaker has struggled to retain human workers for.
If the pilot succeeds, it would signify a breakthrough for autonomous humanoid robots proving they can be commercially viable in industrial settings. While purpose-built robots are widespread in manufacturing today, dexterous, adaptable machines like Figure's could take automation to new levels.
The onsite deployment also allows Figure to further refine capabilities such as the robot’s dexterous hands, which are designed specifically for tricky manipulation jobs. Meanwhile, BMW can benefit from potential cost savings and efficiency gains if the humanoids perform well. It showcases the automaker as an innovative industry leader willing to test cutting-edge technologies.
Initially, Figure will provide the robots to BMW as a service while charging usage fees, although wider adoption could occur if they deliver return on investment. But first, the machines need to succeed in their inaugural stint on the auto shop floor.