Today, a robotics startup called Figure is unveiling “the world’s first commercially viable general purpose humanoid robot,” called Figure 01. Shown in the rendering above, Figure 01 does not yet exist, but according to this morning’s press release, it will “have the ability to think, learn, and interact with its environment and is designed for initial deployment into the workforce to address labor shortages and over time lead the way in eliminating the need for unsafe and undesirable jobs.” Which sounds great, when (or if) it happens.
We are generally skeptical of announcements like these, where a company comes out of stealth with ambitious promises and some impressive renderings but little actual hardware to demonstrate along with them. What caught our eye in Figure’s case is its exceptionally qualified robotics team, led by its chief technology officer, Jerry Pratt. Pratt spent 20 years at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), where he led the team that took second place at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. Working with DRC Atlas, NASA’s Valkyrie, and most recently Nadia, IHMC has established itself as a leader in robot design and control. And if anyone is going to take a useful humanoid robot from an engineering concept to commercial reality, these are the folks to do it.
Figure was founded in 2022 by Brett Adcock, who also founded Archer Aviation, which has successfully built and is currently flight-testing a commercial passenger eVTOL aircraft. Over the past year, the company has hired more than 40 engineers from institutions that include IHMC, Boston Dynamics, Tesla, Waymo, and Google X, most of whom have significant prior experience with humanoid robots or other autonomous systems.
“It’s our view that this is the best humanoid robotics team out there,” Adcock tells IEEE Spectrum. “Collectively, the team has probably built 12 major humanoid robots,” adds CTO Pratt. “We’ll have expertise in just about every part of the thousands of things that you need to do for humanoids.” Pratt says that initially, Figure isn’t expecting to use much in the way of new technology with its robot—it’s not based around some secret actuator technology or anything like that. “It’ll be a new design, with really solid engineering.”
The commercially viable general-purpose humanoid robot that Figure is working toward is going to look something like this: