BMW to Add Humanoid Bots to Auto Production

The bots will automate tedious tasks and free up humans for more applied skills.

A California firm will soon begin staffing BMW factories with talent, but the kind that comes encased in metal and operates with a computer chip.

The difference between traditional automation and what tech company Figure provides is that its robotics embody a 5 foot 6 inch, 130-pound humanoid form, fully powered by electricity.

According to a recent press release, BMW has established a commercial agreement with Figure in order to deploy “general purpose robots” along the automaker’s production lines.

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Brett Adcock, Founder and CEO of Figure, calls the use of general purpose robotics in automotive manufacturing “completely untapped,” and the companies hope to use the bots to automate tedious tasks, freeing up humans for more applied skills and processes that don’t translate well to automation.

The companies say they plan to pursue a phased approach, starting with initial use cases and graduating to more staged deployments at the BMW plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The collaboration also hopes to explore the use of AI.

In an Axios report, Robert Engelhorn, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing was quoted as saying that robots carry "the potential to make productivity more efficient," enabling BMW “to focus on the transformation ahead of us." 

And while there is transformation ahead, to be sure, a report in Popular Science characterizes the project’s goals as “vague,” adding that, in general, “the sci-fi promise of a relentless, hyper efficient, never-sleeping robot workforce, for the time being at least, remains mostly speculative.”

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