In a vision of the future that sounds like science fiction, Agility Robotics is working towards a world where humanoid robots become as ubiquitous as everyday gadgets like smartphones and automobiles. The company recently showcased its latest creation, “Digit,” to investors and the press, marking a significant milestone in the field of robotics.
Jonathan Hurst, the co-founder of Agility Robotics, has been on a lifelong journey to create anthropomorphic robots. He envisions a future where people can interact with these machines effortlessly, simply by conversing with them and requesting assistance with various tasks. However, the current iteration of Digit is limited to specific functions such as loading and unloading bins, stacking items, and performing straightforward tasks.
One of the standout features of Digit is its ability to operate autonomously and problem-solve in real time, thanks to the integration of OpenAI’s ChatGPT 4.0 AI into its software. During a demonstration in front of a small audience, Digit showcased its capabilities. However, it also revealed the challenges associated with emerging technology. CNN Correspondent Veronica Miracle asked one Digit to perform a series of tasks via voice command, which required repeated prompts, and the robot completed the tasks out of order. Another robot, programmed to move bins from a storage rack to a conveyor belt, toppled over and faced difficulties in getting back up.
Safety remains a top priority for Agility Robotics, as humans are required to maintain a minimum distance of six feet from Digit. Hurst emphasized the need for thousands of hours of successful robot operation to establish the safety case for human interaction. It may take several more years before these robots can seamlessly coexist and collaborate with humans.
While the appearance of “Digit” may conjure images of Star Wars battle droids, the coexistence of intelligent robots alongside humans is no longer confined to the realm of science fiction. Amazon, a significant investor in Agility Robotics, recently announced plans to test Digit in one of its Seattle warehouses. Digit is part of Amazon’s growing fleet of robots, with over 750,000 already working collaboratively with employees. Initially, Digit’s primary role will involve assisting employees with tote recycling, a repetitive task of moving empty totes once inventory has been depleted.
However, the integration of robots into the workforce isn’t universally welcomed. In Hollywood, the Writers Guild of America recently ended a protracted strike, partially due to concerns about the increasing use of artificial intelligence, which writers feared could jeopardize their jobs and incomes. Actors also remain on strike, with the use of AI to generate actors’ likenesses being a contentious issue.
Jonathan Hurst, however, refuted claims that Digit would rapidly replace human jobs. He emphasized that deploying a large number of robots simultaneously is a complex and gradual process, given the physical nature of hardware production. Although Hurst did not disclose the exact number of Digits currently being tested by Amazon, he expects that, by 2027, their new robot factory in Oregon will be producing 10,000 Digits annually at peak capacity.
Melonee Wise, Agility’s Chief Technology Officer, highlighted Digit’s potential beyond its physical hardware. She described Agility Robotics as a software company, aiming to build a platform that can create an “app store for labor,” emphasizing the broader scope of their vision.
Agility Robotics is spearheading the development of humanoid robots like “Digit,” paving the way for a future where these machines become an integral part of our daily lives. While there are challenges and uncertainties, the potential for these robots to enhance various industries and work alongside humans is promising. However, it will be crucial to address safety concerns, ensure responsible integration, and consider the impact on the job market as this technology continues to advance.