Why the World of Humanoid Robots Is on Fire Right Now

It’s not just you — there’s a robot renaissance upon us.

Figure humanoid robot that integrate ChatGPT

AI is fueling a lot of wild ideas for our tech-driven future. If everything pans out, we won’t have to write our own essays, take our own notes, drive our own cars — hell, we might not even have to make our own art.

That’s a tall order, obviously, but with AI’s rapid growth it’s hard not to give at least some of those lofty visions credence; even the most sci-fi ones; even — hear me out — freakin’ Star Wars-level humanoid robots.

That [Optimus] Is So Hot Right Now

A glut of humanoid robots was not on my 2024 bingo, but here we are. Every time I scroll through X, there’s something — for instance, a new partnership, an exciting demo, or whatever this is.

There are a lot of humanoid bots now and a lot more seemingly on the way — Figure’s AI robot, Unitree’s speed demon, Agility’s workhorse — but arguably most important of all is Tesla’s Optimus.

I don’t mean that Optimus is necessarily more advanced than the rest of the aforementioned — in fact, Tesla’s competition is pretty fierce right now — but Optimus has something that the other robots don’t: clout.

As some of you may already know, Elon Musk, despite Optimus’ nascency, has been bullish on the robot’s future. In fact, this year, Musk went as far as to suggest that Optimus could make Tesla a $25 trillion company. I know, I know...

If you’re rolling your eyes, you’re justified. Musk is often (and not infrequently wrongly) optimistic about future technologies. But his carnival barking is a huge asset, not just for Tesla, but for the prospects of functional, real-world humanoid robots writ large.

What I mean is that, for better or worse, since Tesla awkwardly introduced Optimus on stage last year with a weird interpretive dance, a lot has happened. When Tesla and Musk talk, people, regardless of their opinion of the pair, listen. If Musk says robots are on the way, maybe they actually are, and that added confidence gives other non-Tesla upstarts more opportunities as well.

While Musk and Tesla have paved the way with their own fuel to the humanoid robot fire, AI is an equally powerful hype train that is doing the same thing concurrently.

AI, specifically large language models (LLMs) like the ones that power ChatGPT, is opening up a world of possibilities for what people think humanoid robots are capable of. That means making them more collaborative, helping them understand commands more easily, and maybe more importantly, making them feel more human.

Take Figure’s robot, for example — in lots of ways, it functions like every other humanoid robot of its ilk. But when paired with ChatGPT, things start to look truly futuristic.

It’s crucial to take Figure’s demo with a grain of salt. Right now, chatbots have a way of making things look functional on the surface, but in practice, the results are rocky. But even as a proof of concept, it’s clear AI has a place in the humanoid robot future and there’s interest in figuring out what that place is.

And sure, being conversational isn’t as important as say, making a robot with the fine motor skills to fold a shirt properly, but if these things are going to be in your home, they better have some manners, right?

Ready For the Sbotlight

There are obviously a lot more factors than just Tesla and AI at play when it comes to the popularity of humanoid robots. Research paved years ago by companies like Boston Dynamics and the prospect of bots’ applications in factories have been equally pivotal.

But this time around, humanoid robots feel as though they’ve found themselves in front of an even bigger and brighter spotlight; it’s not just Tesla that’s putting them there. Nvidia is getting in on the game, providing its own expertise with systems like GR00T which is meant to help robots train themselves. Similarly, OpenAI seems to be interested in the robotics game and there’s a job opening as proof.

It’s hard to say what will come of all the attention, but if history is an example, money and hype usually mean progress. And if that means I don’t have to haul my own dirty clothes to the laundromat, then consider me a humanoid robot truther.

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