How to Plan a Robot

General purpose humanoid robots are still making headlines. Tesla’s expanding their hiring for their Optimus project. Sanctuary AI says its general purpose robot is able to do tasks with human-like intelligence. Pollen Robotics has created Reachy, an open-source humanoid platform that can be programmed with Python.

FigureAI has big plans, too, As their website puts it, “With the first humanoid by our side in the workforce, we’ll have the ability to create and produce so much more, address drastic labor shortages, and reduce the number of workers in unsafe jobs.”

Everyone who’s anyone seems to have a humanoid general purpose robot in the works nowadays. You can even buy an AI-drive humanoid waitress robot at Amazon for under $8,000, with free delivery.

Another view

Still, Akara Robotics’ Niamh Donnelly made a good point in an interview with Silicon Republic, saying, “What we need to do with robotics is look at problems and then build a robot around a solution for that problem rather than just building a robot – a human robot – and then trying to find different areas where it should work.”

Amazon warehouses had lots of empty bins that needed to be collected. It’s a boring, repetitive job, hardly worth the attention of a human, so they brought in Agility’s Digit to do it. “Whether Digit succeeds or fails at the tasks laid out for it could have a profound impact on the trajectory of humanoid robots generally,” said TechCrunch. “[I]f Amazon successfully rolls out Digit at scale, suddenly everyone will want to get their hands on some humanoid workers.”

But wouldn’t autonomous rolling carts on wheels be just as good at this particular task? Other warehouses use them. TechCrunch points out that warehouses have been built for human workers. That means that a human-sized robot could be more useful in such a setting.

We’re not sure about this. We think there’s an element of wishful thinking behind general purpose humanoid robots. We imagine that we might get them to carry empty plastic bins around, but then they might also figure out how to clean the toilets or something. The sky’s the limit!

Wishful thinking is not a strategy, though. It’s not even a plan. General purpose robots may be an appealing idea dot hey may even be the future of robotics, but purpose-made robots still have their uses.

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