World’s first mass-produced humanoid robot?

World’s first mass-produced humanoid robot?
World’s first mass-produced humanoid robot?
  • Chinese startups Two-legged robots with AI brains are being observed by Fourier Intelligence.
  • By the end of 2023, the Shanghai-based company intends to start mass producing its GR-1 robot and deliver thousands of units the following year.
  • Fourier hopes to partner with significant AI firms to develop the ‘brain’ of its bipedal robot.

At the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai in July, Fourier Intelligence’s lanky, jet-black humanoid robot GR-1 was presented. It immediately grabbed the show.

The Chinese-made GR-1 reminded people of the potential of bipedal robots, which are being pursued by global companies from Tesla to Xiaomi. While the global technology community has been fixated on artificial intelligence (AI) software since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November, the GR-1 is said to be capable of walking on two legs at a speed of 5km per hour while carrying a 50kg load.

GR-1 was an improbable victory for Shanghai-based start-up Fourier.

Alex Gu, founder and CEO of Fourier, stated in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post in the Chinese financial capital, “It is an unprecedented attempt by us – we barely had any reference when it came to the technology,”

Fourier hasn’t always been interested in humanoid robots. The business, which takes its name from the 19th-century French mathematician and physicist Joseph Fourier, was founded in 2015 in Zhangjiang, a tech hotspot in Shanghai, with the goal of creating rehabilitative robotics.

The company currently sells a wireless robotic glove, a smart exercise bike, and a number of devices that assist people regain movement in their arms and legs.

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But like many of his contemporaries, Shanghai Jiao Tong University mechanical engineering graduate Gu, 42, had long fantasized about building his own humanoid robot.

So, in 2019, after Fourier had made a name for itself in the market by introducing its intelligent rehabilitation equipment into hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities across more than 10 countries, Gu thought it was time to launch a new business.

Due to the high technological barrier and development expenditures at the time, only a small number of businesses worldwide had successfully released a humanoid robot. There were a few efforts in the US, including Atlas by Boston Dynamics, the business famous for producing the robot dog Spot, and Digit by Agility Robotics.

In August 2022, Xiaomi’s founder Lei Jun displayed on stage the company’s first humanoid robot, CyberOne, which could only be seen to be capable of walking.

During the company’s AI Day less than two months later, Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla, showed a prototype of the much-awaited Optimus robot. On stage, it moved around and danced. A video of the robot performing chores like carrying a box and moving metal bars was also displayed to the audience.

At the WAIC conference last month, Musk stated that the goal of Optimus was to assist humans with “boring, repetitive, or dangerous tasks,” not to “have great intelligence.”

Although Gu acknowledged that he and Musk had similar goals, he noted that robots “can also become very good friends of humans by providing emotional value.”

While Gu acknowledged that there are currently “significant gaps with humans in both movement and cognitive ability” for humanoid robots, the development of large language models (LLM), the kind of program that powers ChatGPT and other AI chatbots, might be “epoch changing.”

LLMs will give robots the ability of logical reasoning, making them much more human-like,” Gu claimed.

While Gu emphasized that Fourier would concentrate on producing the hardware that constitutes the “body” of the robots and leave AI firms to work on the “brain,” Zen Koh, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Fourier, stated that a few AI companies had already contacted Fourier about possible collaboration in LLMs.

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We want to collaborate with all the main players and, as a system, be transparent, Koh added.

Gu claims that a few colleges and AI businesses have already received the GR-1 robot in modest quantities for research and development. By year’s end, he wants to start mass producing and delivering thousands of devices by 2024.

Musk also asserted that production may begin in 2023 last year.

In the upcoming three to five years, Gu anticipates that Fourier’s humanoid robots, which he claimed have significant promise in a variety of settings including senior care, teaching, and guest reception, would create more money than its rehabilitation robots.

He added that there is still a long way to go before humanoid robots are a regular part of our life.

Don’t anticipate a miracle to appear in the next year or two; even Tesla needs time to reach mass production of humanoid robots, Gu remarked.

Don’t exclude the likelihood that this item could enter people’s family lives in five or ten years, though.

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