Published: March 1, 2024
A humanoid cleaning up (its own?) mess while preparing a meal. The humanoid form factor holds tremendous promise for seamless integration into existing value creation processes. Image: author via

Humanoids might finally solve the “brownfield” problem that plagues robotic adaptation, and recent breakthroughs in multi-modal transformers and diffusion models might actually make it happen.

Not a week goes by without a flurry of humanoid companies releasing a new update. Optimus can walk? Digit has just moved an empty tote? So has Figure! It also seems that real companies are finally getting interested. Starting with Tesla, humanoids are now “working” at Amazon and BMW, from which it is only a short way to our households and gardens. But are they really working? The demos we get to see are neither as exciting as Boston Dynamics’ Atlas doing parkour, nor humanoids seem to be very productive. So is the market rightfully excited and are humanoids up to something? I’m excited about humanoids for two reasons:

1) Humanoids might finally solve the “Brownfield” problem, the main reason so many robots solutions burn in pilot purgatory.

2) Machine learning has made a huge leap in 2023, with computers exhibiting reasoning skills that — for the first time — allow them to operate in open-world settings and perform contact richt manipulation.

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