OpenAI Partners with Figure: Integrating AI into Humanoid Robots for Everyday Life

In a significant move towards advancing the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into humanoid robots, OpenAI has entered into a partnership with robotics startup Figure. The collaboration, announced by Figure on February 29, 2024, coincided with the company securing $675 million in venture capital funding from notable backers, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft, Nvidia, Intel's startup-funding divisions, and OpenAI itself.

Despite being less than two years old and lacking a commercial product, Figure has managed to garner support from influential tech industry players who share the startup's vision of deploying humanlike robots to workplaces and homes globally. Figure CEO Brett Adcock expressed optimism, stating, "If we can just get humanoids to do work that humans are not wanting to do because there’s a shortfall of humans, we can sell millions of humanoids, billions maybe."

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For OpenAI, which initially ventured into robotics research before pivoting to focus on large language models like ChatGPT, this collaboration represents an opportunity to explore new possibilities in the realm of robotics. According to Peter Welinder, OpenAI's Vice President of Product and Partnerships, the partnership with Figure will "open up new possibilities for how robots can help in everyday life."

While financial terms of the deal remain undisclosed, OpenAI will leverage its expertise in AI to build specialized models for Figure's humanoid robots. These models are likely to be based on OpenAI's existing technologies, including GPT language models, the image-generator DALL-E, and the new video-generator Sora.

This collaboration aims to accelerate Figure's commercial timeline by enabling its robots to process and reason from language, a crucial aspect for their integration into various real-world scenarios. Figure had previously announced an agreement with BMW in January, planning to deploy its robots at a car plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, although specific use cases were yet to be determined.

However, opinions on the usefulness of humanoid robots in practical applications vary among robotics experts. While Figure envisions their deployment in workplaces and homes, some experts express skepticism, citing technical challenges and the prolonged timeline required for humanoid solutions to see widespread commercial adoption.

OpenAI's CEO, Sam Altman, hinted at the company's renewed interest in robotics earlier this year, emphasizing the need for intelligence and cognition before addressing physicality. The partnership with Figure marks OpenAI's return to the robotics arena, highlighting a strategic shift in focus and an exploration of the potential synergy between AI and humanoid robots.