It’s as if humanity has a pathological commitment to its own downfall. The latest example in this weird anti-evolutionary quirk is the news that a robotics factory in America is gearing up to start producing 10,000 humanoid robots each year.
Agility Robotics, who create a bipedal robot called ‘Digit’, have announced that their factory in Salem, Oregon, will be ready to begin production later this year.
“The opening of our factory marks a pivotal moment in the history of robotics: the beginning of the mass production of commercial humanoid robots,” said Damion Shelton, Agility Robotics’ co-founder and CEO.
The company, which says it is “here to build multi-purpose robots for good,” will be making a world first when it starts fabricating humanoid robots on a mass scale. The company has likened it to the beginning of the mass production of vehicles for the impact that the robots will have on the world.
The first year, Agility claims, will see production capacity hit a few hundred which will scale into the thousands over the coming years. The factory, named RoboFab, will employ 500 humans to work alongside robots which, yes, will be helping to build more robots.
This is the fourth generation of Agility’s Digit robots which was announced in March of this year. Digit V4 adds a head and face with eyes that indicate the direction it’s moving in. The robots are designed to look like and move like people in order to help them work in “a world designed for people,” according to Agility’s Chief Technical Officer, Jonathan Hurst.
At this stage in development, they are limited to lifting and moving boxes and packages. However, Agility has said they will soon be able to unload trucks and, later, deliver packages to people’s doors.
“We built Digit to solve difficult problems in today’s workforce like injuries, burnout, high turnover, and unfillable labour gaps, with the ultimate vision of enabling humans to be more human,” Shelton said.
So, yes, they will be coming for your jobs — if your job involves picking up and moving stuff — as they are aimed at filling roles in logistics and warehousing.
“With the capability to produce Digit at scale, we are poised to change the future of work for the better,” Agility Robotics COO Aindrea Campbell said.
The Rise of the Humanoid Machines
Agility is not the only company working in the humanoid robotics space. Businesses like Figure.ai are also trying to create smart robots that learn through AI. Boston Dynamics has been creating life-like robots for years and Chinese company Fourier Intelligence is also at it. Even Elon Musk is creating a humanoid robot called Optimus, because of course he is, which he believes will one day make up most of the sales at Tesla.
Some experts say that humanoid bots are essential to fill labour gaps emerging as a result of a declining birth rate. Warehouses and factories are the first places they will move into but they will eventually be employed in healthcare, the domestic sector, and pretty much everywhere else physical work is done.
What’s more, this shift is thought to be coming much sooner than most people anticipate, with some predicting we’ll start to see significant changes in the next decade or so.
That robots will take jobs is beyond a doubt. A 2020 study from MIT found that 400,000 jobs in the US had already been lost to robots between 1993 and 2007. As robots continue to do so, it’s thought they will put downward pressure on wages. Increasingly, conversations about universal basic income and the ethical employment of automated robots will become necessary.
Agility Robotics has yet to reveal the pricing of their latest generation of Digit robots, but has said they expect it to cost less than the previous versions which were priced at USD$250,000 per unit ($387,000).
Agility has said that the first orders of Digit robots will be filled in 2024, with general market availability ready in 2025.