Tesla bot’s rival Figure partners with BMW

Robotics startup Figure has signed an agreement with BMW to deploy humanoid robots at the automaker’s manufacturing facility in South Carolina.

The Californian startup said it was looking forward to working “side-by-side” with BMW to integrate general purpose robots into the company’s automotive production.

This will “increase productivity, reduce costs, and create a safer and more consistent environment,” said Brettt Adcock, chief executive and founder at Figure.

"Single-purpose robotics have saturated the commercial market for decades, but the potential of general purpose robotics is completely untapped,” Adcock said.

The agreement with the German automaker marks Figure’s first commercial agreement since it was founded in 2022 to work on what it describes as the world’s first “commercially viable” autonomous humanoid robot.

Figure said its robots would start staged deployment at BMW’s manufacturing facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina, once initial use cases are identified. The plant is BMW’s largest and employs 11,000 people. It is also the largest automotive exporter in the US.

BMW’s Robert Engelhorn said the company was responding to the “rapidly” evolving auto industry.

“The use of general purpose robot solutions has the potential to make productivity more efficient, to support the growing demands of our consumers, and to enable our team to focus on the transformation ahead of us,” he said.

Car manufacturers around the world are increasingly turning to robots to carry out their production operations. Last year, South Korean carmaker Hyundai opened a robot-run facility in Singapore, where robots carry out 50% of all tasks.

Tesla is working on its own general purpose robot, unveiling the latest prototype, called Optimus Gen 2, in December, while China is aiming to start mass-producing humanoid robots by 2025.

The market of general purpose robots is expected to grow rapidly within the next decade with humanoid robots poised to perform diverse tasks ranging from warehouse work to retail and care.

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