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BMW deploys general-purpose humanoid to South Carolina plant

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BMW Manufacturing is deploying autonomous humanoids to its South Carolina plant, according to a press release from Figure, the company developing the robots.

The two companies signed a commercial agreement for the robots to be used in “difficult, unsafe or tedious tasks throughout the manufacturing process,” the release said.

“The automotive industry, and with it the production of vehicles, is evolving rapidly,” said Robert Engelhorn, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, in the release. “BMW Manufacturing is committed to integrating innovative technologies in our production systems to drive our future forward as an industry leader and innovator. The use of general-purpose robot solutions has the potential to make productivity more efficient, to support the growing demands of our consumers, and to enable our team to focus on the transformation ahead of us.”

While the release doesn’t say how many robots, BMW told The Robot Report that it’s starting with “one robot for technical evaluation” in the first stage.

“Once the first phase has been completed, the Figure robots will begin staged deployment at BMW’s manufacturing facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina,” Figure’s press release said.

The Spartanburg plant is the largest automotive exporter in the U.S. with a total export value of nearly $9.6 million, BMW’s website said. The 30-year-old plant employs 11,000 people in its 8 million-square-foot campus.

The BMW X3, X4, X5, X6, X7, and XM SUVs and coupes are assembled at the plant, the website said. More than 1,500 vehicles are assembled at the plant daily.

BMW and Figure plan to explore artificial intelligence (AI), robot control, manufacturing, virtualization, and robot integration together, the release said.

“Single-purpose robotics have saturated the commercial market for decades, but the potential of general-purpose robotics is completely untapped,” said Brett Adcock, founder and CEO of Figure, in the release. “Figure’s robots will enable companies to increase productivity, reduce costs, and create a safer and more consistent environment. We look forward to working side-by-side with BMW Manufacturing to integrate AI and robotics into automotive production.”

According to Reuters, both Honda and Hyundai have been using humanoid robots on assembly lines to perform repetitive and dangerous work.

Figure claims its humanoid is the first robot to be used for “general purpose,” as opposed to single-function robots that perform repetitive tasks.

The Figure 01 humanoid is 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 132 pounds, and its electric system has a five-hour runtime, the company’s website said.

“We’ve designed our world for the human form,” the website said. “Hands allow us to open doors and use tools; arms and legs allow us to move efficiently, climb stairs, lift boxes, and more. Figure 01 brings together the dexterity of the human form and cutting-edge AI to go beyond single-function robots and lend support across manufacturing, logistics, warehousing, and retail.”

Agility Robotics announced in November that Amazon would start testing its robot, Digit, for use in warehouses. Agility claims Digit is the first “multi-purpose robot made for logistics work.”

“Amazon’s initial use of Digit will be to help employees with tote recycling — a highly repetitive process of picking up and moving empty totes once inventory has been completely picked out of them,” a press release said.

According to Business Insider, Elon Musk recently said during an earnings call that Tesla plans to start shipping units of its humanoid, Optimus, next year.


Photo courtesy of pwmotion/iStock

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