Robotics: the humanoids are coming!

There has been a lot of talk about the arrival of humanoid robots in factories, human-shaped robots in Amazon’s hangars, there is also BMW which has just announced tests in its factories. Most of the humanoids’ technological challenges have now been met.


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Humanoid robots, like FIGURE 01, are already present in Amazon's hangars, BMW has just announced tests in its factories.  (FIGURE AI)

Mathilde Fontez, editor-in-chief of the scientific magazine Epsiloon today returns to the announcement by the automobile company BMW a few weeks ago. Human-shaped robots in its factories…

franceinfo: Are humanoid robots being tested in BMW factories?

Mathilde Fontez: Yes, you might think it’s a publicity stunt. Until then, we mainly thought that we would never have humanoid robots in factories. Already because robots with only automated arms do the job well. And this fantasy of the robot in human form, with two legs, which walks, which can interact with humans, was still far from reality, technically.

Except that there have been technical advances?

We have clearly reached a milestone, that’s what all robotics specialists say today. This stems from work that began in France in part, in collaboration with the Japanese Institute of Industrial Science and Technology, for the aeronautical industry.

A demonstration in 2019, in the Airbus factory in Saint-Nazaire, left its mark: for the first time, we saw humanoids walking, climbing stairs, crouching near the fuselage of an A350, and stick a piece there. Behind this feat, there is progress in electronics: artificial intelligence, the increase in computing power, makes it possible to train robots in simulation, to make them react better.

But above all mechanical developments: new motors have been developed, derived from drone motors, which offer more precise, more dynamic movement. It is these motors that have overcome the robotic problem of bipedalism: the robot no longer falls. When he is jostled, he regains his balance. It is also finer: it can grab an object without crushing it.

But why do we need humanoids, rather than wheeled or four-legged robots?

To evolve in a human environment, without modifying it. It’s natural in a way, since we have arranged our environment for us: lhe roboticists started with a blank sheet of paper, asking themselves the ideal form of robot for our environment, and inevitably, they came across the human form. There is nothing more suitable, more versatile.

And then there is a sort of irresistible attraction for the humanoid robot: it’s a sci-fi dream. Are they really going to be effective in the factory? Will they be competitive on price? In any case, they are coming: a few months ago, the company Agility Robotics announced the opening of a factory capable of producing more than 10,000 humanoid robots per year.

And last November, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology declared humanoid robotics a national priority, with the goal of mass production by 2025.

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