BMW has entered into a "commercial agreement" with Figure, a robotics company, to deploy its first humanoid robot, Figure 01, at the Spartanburg manufacturing facility in South Carolina. The plant, the only BMW facility in the United States, has a substantial footprint of 8 million square feet and has consistently demonstrated high productivity among the manufacturer's global factories.
While specific details about the number of Figure 01 robots and their exact tasks have not been disclosed by BMW, it is confirmed that the deployment will commence with an initial set of five tasks. These tasks will be introduced gradually, following a single- or multi-purpose approach, with the robot expanding its skillset over time, similar to an app store model.
The initial applications are expected to involve standard manufacturing tasks such as box moving, pick and place, and pallet unloading and loading. These tasks are often repetitive and fall into the category where factory owners encounter challenges in retaining human workers. Figure CEO Brett Adcock likens the approach to Boston Dynamics' Spot robot, which offers an app store through an SDK (software development kit).
The humanoid design by Figure emphasizes the creation of a dexterous, human-like hand for manipulation, as opposed to focusing on mobility with legs. Adcock notes that the initial set of jobs will require high dexterity, making the humanoid hand an essential feature.
Training for the Figure 01 robot will utilize a combination of reinforcement learning, simulation, and teleoperation. The robot will learn on the job, refining its approach through real-world testing. Whether the humanoid robots become permanent fixtures on the BMW production line will depend on their ability to meet the automaker's internal expectations for output. Figure plans to adopt a "robotics as a service" (RaaS) model, leasing the systems to BMW.
As part of the partnership, Figure has signed up additional clients, with applications likely expanding based on the needs of each partner. The company aims to ship its first commercial robot within a year, marking a significant milestone for its quick turnaround times.