Factbox: The challenges automakers, and now Tesla, face with humanoid robots

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SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk will showcase his prototype humanoid robot at an event on Sept 30, hoping to outperform despite his repeated promises But self-driving cars have yet to become a reality.

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

“It’s a very, very challenging market because you buy this kind of expensive big robot that doesn’t actually do much,” said Heni Ben Amor, a professor of robotics at Arizona State University.

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Tesla’s humanoid robot, Optimus, will initially be used in manufacturing and logistics for tedious and repetitive jobs to address labor shortages.

Musk said that in the long run, the robot could be used at home and even be a “friend” or “Catwoman” sexual partner.read more


Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co’s (7267.T) Asimo bipedal robot was the face of the company, but it hasn’t been commercialized after more than 20 years of development. Honda is now focusing on disaster-relief robots and “Avatar” robots for tasks such as remote surgery.

Honda aims to demonstrate Avatar robots by early 2024 and deploy the machines in the 2030s.

General Motors – NASA

From 2007 to 2012, General Motors (GM.N) and NASA teamed up to develop the R2, a humanoid robot for assembly and space exploration.

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

Hyundai Motor – Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics has created an internet sensation with videos of its humanoid robot running, jumping, backflipping and dancing. But the loss-making U.S. company has changed hands several times, with Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O)’s Google, SoftBank (9984.T) and Hyundai Motor (005380.KS) becoming owners.

Hyundai Motor and Boston Dynamics said in August they would initially invest more than $400 million to build a “research-first organization” in artificial intelligence and robotics.

ford agile robot

In 2020, Ford (FN) purchased two humanoid robots, Digit, from Agility Robotics to test delivering packages from delivery vehicles to doorstops.

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

Softbank, others

SoftBank’s wide-eyed Pepper robot helped boost CEO Masayoshi Son’s profile as a forward-looking tech entrepreneur, but production of the robot was halted.

Several robotics startups like Rethink Robotics also went out of business after failing to commercialize their products.

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Reporting by Hyun-joo Kim; Additional reporting by Sam Nussey in Tokyo; Editing by Lisa Shoemaker

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