Tesla's CEO Elon Musk is set to unveil its prototype humanoid robots at an event on Sept. 30, hoping to expand beyond self-driving cars that have not yet become reality despite his repeated promises. While robots are widely used for specialist tasks at factories, other companies have struggled to create commercially viable human-like robots, despite decades-long development efforts. "This market is very, very challenging market because you buy this big expensive robot, but it actually cannot do much," Heni Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University, said. Tesla's humanoid robots, Optimus, will be initially used in manufacturing and logistics for boring and repetitive work, thus addressing a labor shortage. For the longer term, Musk said the robot could be used in homes, even becoming a "buddy" or a "catgirl" sex partner.
Greg Nichols covers robotics, AI, and AR/VR for ZDNet. A full-time journalist and author, he writes about tech, travel, crime, and the economy for global media outlets and reports from across the U. One of my favorite robots of the last few years is named Cassie. Little more than a pair of bipedal robotic legs, the robot was designed as a robust R&D tool for ground mobility applications. That approach has now netted Agility Robotics, maker of Cassie and, more recently, of commercial robots designed to work alongside people in logistics and warehouse environments, an impressive $150M Series B, which it will use to implement human-robot collaboration in logistics warehouses.
Agility Robotics announced an updated version today of its bipedal Digits warehouse robot. Designed to take on repetitive or injury-risking tasks, the new version adds a head (with LED animated eyes) and hands, and it can handle a wider variety of demanding workloads than its predecessor. The new Digits robot can "reach higher, carry more, last longer, charge faster and convey intent" better than the previous model. In addition, it's better at manipulating its surroundings, and it has keener perception and is better at human-robot interactions. The machine is 5'9" tall and weighs around 140 lbs, including newly designed "end effectors" (hands) that help it reach high or low spaces and pick up or place plastic totes or other objects found in shipping warehouses.
Ford is adding legs to its robocars--sort of. The automaker is announcing today that its fleet of autonomous delivery vans will carry more than just packages: Riding along with the boxes in the back there will be a two-legged robot. Digit, Agility Robotics' humanoid unveiled earlier this year on the cover of IEEE Spectrum, is designed to move in a more dynamic fashion than regular robots do, and it's able to walk over uneven terrain, climb stairs, and carry 20-kilogram packages. Ford says in a post on Medium that Digit will bring boxes from the curb all the way to your doorstep, covering those last few meters that self-driving cars are unable to. The company plans to launch a self-driving vehicle service in 2021.