Innovative robots reshaping industries

The World Economic Forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, predicted in 2015 that a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” driven by a combination of technologies, including advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things, was imminent.

“[This revolution] will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another,” wrote Schwab in an essay. “In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

Even after almost ten years, the current wave of advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence and their use in the workforce seems to be exactly in line with his forecasts.

Even though they have been used in factories for many years, robots have often been designed with a single task. Robots that imitate human features such as size, shape, and ability are called humanoids. They would therefore be an ideal physical fit for any type of workspace. At least in theory.

It has been extremely difficult to build a robot that can perform all of a human worker’s physical tasks since human hands have more than twenty degrees of freedom. The machine still requires “brains” to learn how to perform all of the continuously changing jobs in a dynamic work environment, even if developers are successful in building the body correctly.

As reported here, however, a number of companies have lately unveiled humanoid robots that they say either currently match the requirements or will in the near future, thanks to advancements in robotics and AI. This is a summary of those robots, their capabilities, and the situations in which they are being used in conjunction with humans.

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1X Technologies: Eve

eve

In 2019, the Norwegian startup 1X Technologies, formerly known as “Halodi Robotics,” introduced Eve. Rolling around on wheels, the humanoid can be operated remotely or left to operate autonomously.

Bernt Bornich, CEO of 1X, revealed to the Daily Mail in May 2023 that Eve had already been assigned to two industrial sites as a security guard. The robot is also expected to be used for shipping and retail, according to the company. Since March 2023, 1X has raised more than $125 million from investors, including OpenAI. The company is now working on Neo, its next-generation humanoid, which is expected to be bipedal.

Agility Robotics: Digit

digit

In 2019, Agility Robotics, a company based in Oregon, presented Digit, which was essentially a torso and arms placed atop Cassie, the company’s robotic legs. The fourth version of Digit was unveiled in 2023, showcasing an upgraded head and hands. The major contender in the humanoid race is Amazon.

Agility declared in September 2023 that it had started building a production facility with the capacity to produce over 10,000 Digit robots annually.

Apptronik: Apollo

apollo

Robotic arms and exoskeletons are only two of the many robots that Apptronik has created since breaking away from the University of Texas in Austin in 2016. In August 2023, Apollo, a general-purpose humanoid, was presented. It is the robot that NASA might send to Mars in the future.

According to Apptronik, the company sees applications for Apollo robots in “construction, oil and gas, electronics production, retail, home delivery, elder care, and countless more areas.”

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Applications for Apollo are presently being investigated by Mercedes and Apptronik in a Hungarian manufacturing plant. Additionally, Apptronik is collaborating with NASA, a longstanding supporter, to modify Apollo and other humanoids for use as space mission assistants.

Boston Dynamics: Electric Atlas

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MIT-spinout Boston Dynamics is a well-known name in robotics, largely due to viral videos of its parkour-loving humanoid Atlas robot and robot dog Spot. It replaced the long-suffering, hydraulically driven Atlas in April 2024 with an all-electric model that is ready for commercial use.

Although there aren’t many details available about the electric Atlas, what is known is that unlike the hydroelectric applications, which were only intended for research and development, the electric Atlas was designed with “real-world applications” in mind. Boston Dynamics intends to begin investigating these applications at a Hyundai manufacturing facility since Boston Dynamics is owned by Hyundai.

Boston Dynamics stated to IEEE Spectrum that the Hyundai factory’s “proof of technology testing” is scheduled for 2025. Over the next few years, the company also intends to collaborate with a small number of clients to test further Atlas applications.