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Bezos, Microsoft, OpenAI, and Nvidia to Power Humanoid Robots: Figure Lands $675 Million

Last Updated March 1, 2024 3:21 PM
Giuseppe Ciccomascolo
Last Updated March 1, 2024 3:21 PM

Key Takeaways

  • OpenAI is venturing into robotics through a partnership with Figure.
  • Figure has secured $675 million in funding from tech giants like Microsoft, Nvidia, and Amazon, along with prominent figures like Jeff Bezos.
  • Figure 01, the company’s first robot, can walk, lift, and perform basic tasks.
  • What lies ahead for the California-based startup?

OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, is set to integrate its artificial intelligence (AI) systems into humanoid robots through a new partnership with robotics startup Figure. The artificial intelligence company led by Sam Altman has finalized  a deal with Figure that marks its foray into physical embodiment for its AI models.

However, OpenAI is not the only big name in the tech world to have funded Figure. But what does Figure do? And why is it gaining a lot of attention – and money – from big tech names?

OpenAI To Fund Figure

California-based startup Figure announced a partnership with OpenAI on Thursday, February 29, 2024. The startup also secured $675 million in venture capital funding.  This gives Figure a capitalization of $2.6 billion.

Despite being less than two years old and lacking a commercial product, Figure has successfully garnered support from influential tech industry backers who share its ambitious vision: to deploy billions of human-like robots in workplaces and homes worldwide.

For OpenAI, renowned for its pioneering work in AI language models like ChatGPT, the collaboration marks a strategic expansion into robotics. It offers novel avenues for integrating robots into everyday life. According to Peter Welinder, Vice President of Product and Partnerships at the San Francisco-based company, this partnership promises to unlock new possibilities in the realm of robotics.

While financial details remain undisclosed, the collaboration entails OpenAI developing specialized AI models tailored for Figure’s humanoid robots. Leveraging OpenAI’s cutting-edge technology, including GPT language models, the image-generator DALL-E, and the new video-generator Sora, this partnership holds great promise for the future of robotics.

Who Are Other Investors?

Investors in Figure include tech giants Microsoft, Nvidia, and Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund, as well as Jeff Bezos through Bezos Expeditions. Other key contributors encompass Parkway Venture Capital, Intel Capital, Align Ventures, and ARK Invest.

Parkway Venture Capital was one of the first to believe in Figure’s potential, investing  $70 million in 2023. Parkway invests across all sectors in companies that are making pioneering use of simulation and AI technologies.

“We are operators who have built and sold successful companies. And offer unmatched insight into the people and companies we invest in. We have direct experience with the challenges and solutions that lie ahead for the entrepreneurs and innovators, scaling the organizations they lead,” Parkway VC said .

In addition to its impressive investor roster, Figure has forged strategic partnerships with industry leaders such as BMW. Notably, BMW’s latest autoworker is a humanoid robot equipped with two legs and five-fingered hands, capable of efficiently assembling machines.

These innovative robots, developed by Figure, are set to revolutionize manufacturing processes at BMW plants. The deployment will start in the Spartanburg plant, South Carolina.

What’s Figures’ Plan?

Figure is a startup that claims to be “the first-of-its-kind AI robotics company bringing a general purpose humanoid to life.” The company’s first robot, Figure 01, is AI-powered and self-reliant. It is also ready to produce an abundance of affordable, more widely available goods and services “to a degree that humanity has never seen.”

Demonstrations have showcased Figure 01’s abilities in warehouse environments, including walking, lifting, moving crates, and even making coffee. Despite these capabilities, the robot’s speed remains a limitation, currently operating at 16.7% of human speed while tethered.

Figure’s focus lies in automating tasks that humans typically find undesirable or unsafe. With an estimated 10 million such jobs in the U.S., the startup sees ample opportunity for its robots to fill these roles.

While robots are prevalent in assembly lines and warehouses, Figure argues  that current application-specific robots lack the adaptability of humanoid forms. The company advocates for a single humanoid robot capable of performing a wide range of tasks. It believes it will have the greatest impact in human environments.

Initially targeting manufacturing, logistics, warehousing, and retail, Figure plans  to expand its robots’ capabilities. It aims to encompass more complex tasks in sectors such as healthcare and space travel. Ultimately, the company envisions robots replacing manual laborers and even constructing other robots. However, Figure acknowledges that achieving mass-market appeal will require significant investment over time. It emphasized that the transition to widespread robot adoption will not happen overnight.

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