The challenges automakers face with humanoid robots
STORY: Tesla has an ambitious plan – to deploy thousands of humanoid robots within its factories,
expanding eventually to millions around the world.
(Elon Musk) ‘’Tesla Bot will be real."
And it's not just Tesla.
Other automakers, like Honda and Hyundai, have also been leveraging robotics technology to expand automation at car factories.
But not without facing challenges and skepticism.
Let's take a look at why companies have struggled to create commercially viable human-like robots, despite decades-long development efforts.
Tesla's humanoid robots, Optimus, will be initially used in manufacturing and logistics to address a labor shortage. Think of boring and repetitive work.
Longer term, Musk said robots could be used in homes, making dinner, mowing the lawn and caring for the elderly people.
But these robots are expensive and just like self-driving cars, humanoid robots have trouble with unpredictable situations.
Experts say to succeed, Tesla will need to show their robots can do multiple, unscripted actions, almost like humans.
Japanese automaker Honda’s Asimo bipedal robot had served as a face for the company.
But after more than two decades of development, it's still not commercialized.
Honda is now focusing on disaster relief robots and "Avatar" robots for tasks like remote surgery…with the goal of deploying the machines in the 2030s.
Boston Dynamics created a buzz with videos of its humanoid robots running, jumping, backflipping and dancing.
But the loss-making U.S. company changed hands several times, with Google, SoftBank and then Hyundai becoming the its owner.
Boston Dynamics Founder, Marc Raibert:
"You know, I think that Hyundai and Boston Dynamics are a match made in heaven. Right now, most of the robots used in factories are doing very repetitive, very specific, precision oriented jobs. And that's not what we see in the future. We see a future where robots become much more intelligent, much more useful, really contribute to productivity and safely and become a part of our everyday lives."
In 2020, Ford bought two humanoid robots, Digit, from Oregon-based Agility Robotics.
The carmaker wanted to test the delivery of a package to doorstep from a delivery vehicle.
Damion Shelton, CEO of Agility Robotics:
"We've been very upfront that we've been focused on the logistics industry, sort of broadly construed. And that includes all sides of logistics. Last-mile delivery, working in warehouses alongside of people."
From 2007 to 2012, General Motors and NASA joined hands to develop humanoid robots, R2, for assembly and
But NASA says they’re not under development anymore.
Several robot startups like Rethink Robotics also went out of business, as they failed to commercialize their products.
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