OpenAI Gets Back Into Robots

Just over five years after training a robotic hand to solve a Rubik's Cube, generative AI juggernaut OpenAI is again setting its sights on humanoid robots.

The company this week announced it is partnering with robotics startup Figure to provide it with AI and machine learning resources for a forthcoming line of commercial autonomous robots.

"We're collaborating with Figure to expand our multimodal models to robotic perception, reasoning, and interaction," OpenAI said in a post on X/Twitter Thursday.

The news comes at the same time that Figure announced it has reached a valuation of $2.6 billion on the back of a $675 million cash infusion from the likes of Microsoft, Nvidia, Intel, Jeff Bezos and OpenAI itself.

Headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., Figure describes itself as a "first-of-its-kind AI robotics company bringing a general purpose humanoid to life."

According to its "Master Plan" page attributed to founder Brett Adcock, Figure's goal is to develop a line of fully autonomous, commercial robots called "humanoids" that can replace human workers at jobs that are "unsafe and undesirable" (the exceptions being jobs related to the military, defense or "roles that require inflicting harm on humans").

Figure sees its humanoids filling roles in industry, households and, eventually, space exploration. In the nearer term, however, it has three stated goals -- the "first phase" of its master plan:

  1. Build a feature-complete electromechanical humanoid.
  2. Perform human-like manipulation.
  3. Integrate humanoids into the labor force.

It seems well on its way to achieving them. Last October, Figure debuted its flagship humanoid robot, dubbed "Figure 01."

Earlier this year, Figure 01 learned how to make coffee.

Just this week, another milestone: Figure 01 learned to walk to a stack of bins, pick up one of them, then place it on a conveyor belt several feet away.

The partnership with OpenAI will position Figure to "accelerate [its] commercial timeline by enhancing the capabilities of humanoid robots to process and reason from language."

Providing the compute power to support the kind of AI workloads required to train humanoid robots is Microsoft. The company announced Thursday that it is giving Figure access to its massive Azure cloud infrastructure. Microsoft, of course, is also OpenAI's biggest investor.

"Through our work together, Figure will have access to Microsoft's AI infrastructure and services to support the deployment of humanoid robots to assist people with real world applications," said Microsoft corporate VP Jon Tinter.

The newly announced partnerships and investments will contribute to Figure's goal to bring robots to market "as soon as possible," according to Adcock. 

"This investment, combined with our partnership with OpenAI and Microsoft, ensures that we are well-prepared to bring embodied AI into the world to make a transformative impact on humanity," he said.

About the Author

Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editorial director of Converge360.