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The challenges facing automakers, and now Tesla, with humanoid robots

Tesla CEO Elon Musk will unveil his prototype humanoid robots at an event on September 30, in hopes of going beyond self-driving cars

Tesla CEO Elon Musk will unveil his prototype humanoid robots at an event on September 30, in hopes of moving beyond self-driving cars that have not yet become a reality despite his repeated promises.

While robots are widely used for specialist tasks in factories, other companies have struggled to create commercially viable humanoid robots despite decades of development efforts.

“This market is a very, very challenging market because you buy this big expensive robot, but it can’t really do much,” said Heni Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University.

TESLA

Tesla’s humanoid robots, Optimus, will initially be used in manufacturing and logistics for tedious and repetitive work, addressing labor shortages.

Longer term, Musk said the robot can be used at home and even become a “buddy” or a “catgirl” sex partner.

HONDA

Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co’s bipedal robot Asimo had served as the face of the company, but was not commercialized after more than two decades of development. Honda is now focusing on disaster response robots and ‘Avatar’ robots for tasks such as remote surgery.

Honda plans to demonstrate the Avatar robot before early 2024 and deploy the machines in the 2030s.

GM-NASA

From 2007 to 2012, General Motors and NASA teamed up to develop humanoid robots, R2, for assembly and space exploration.

NASA said they are no longer in development. NASA said its current focus is on developing next-generation humanoid robots that can be used on the lunar surface and eventually on Mars.

HYUNDAI ENGINE-BOSTON DYNAMICS

Boston Dynamics created internet buzz with videos of its humanoid robots running, jumping, backflipping and dancing. But the loss-making US company changed hands several times, with Google, SoftBank, and then Alphabet Inc’s Hyundai Motor Co.

Hyundai and Boston Dynamics said in August that they will initially invest more than $400 million in a “research organization” in the field of AI and robotics.

FORD AGILITY ROBOTICS

In 2020, Ford purchased two humanoid robots, Digit, from Agility Robotics, to test the delivery of a package to the doorstop of a delivery vehicle.

Oregon-based startup Agility Robotics is also working to deploy human-like robots that can pick up and move items in warehouses.

SOFTBANK, OTHER

SoftBank’s Pepper robot, which helped polish Chief Executive Masayoshi Son’s image as a forward-looking tech entrepreneur, saw production shut down.

Several robot startups such as Rethink Robotics also went bankrupt, as they were unable to market their products.

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