50 years of humanoid robots

In the past decade, many different types of humanoid robots have appeared in the public eye.

The global industrial robot market is expected to reach 625.815 billion yuan in 2022 and 1115.071 billion yuan in 2028, with a compound annual growth rate of 10.73%; the global service robot market in 2022 is 202.736 billion yuan, and is expected to reach 705.471 billion yuan by 2028, with a compound annual growth rate of 23.10%.

The global humanoid robot market will increase from US$1.5 billion in 2022 to US$17.3 billion in 2027. There are great expectations for this blue ocean worth 100 billion yuan.

The earliest exploration of humanoid robot development was WABOT-1, the world’s first humanoid robot, launched by Waseda University in 1973, just 50 years before Musk’s prediction of next year’s robot “mass production”. The WABOT-1 is a life-sized device, with two hands and two feet, and has simple limb control, visual, and dialogue features.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is targeting a field that has been developing for decades but has always been difficult to commercialize——humanoid robots. The humanoid robot project, called “Optimus (Optimus Prime),” was revealed by Musk at the first Tesla Artificial Intelligence Day in August 2021. In April 2022, Musk said that Optimus Prime is the most important Tesla product development project of 2022, even more important than cars, and that it would be “in moderate mass production” in 2023. Musk also announced that he will launch the prototype Optimus Prime machine, also known as the “Tesla Humanoid Robot” (Tesla Bot), at the second Tesla Artificial Intelligence Day on September 30.

Since Musk drew the “cake” in April, China’s A-share robotic concept stock group has risen to several highs.

At the 2021 World Artificial Intelligence Conference, UBTECH showed the public its latest product, Walker X, which “took five years and four iterations”. It can perform various functions such as smooth and fast walking over complex terrain, self-balance, simple human-machine interactions, autonomous path planning and so on.

On August 11,2022, Xiaomi held an autumn new products release conference. The biggest highlight of this release event was Xiaomi’s first full-sized humanoid bionic robot, ——CyberOne, which is 1.77 meters tall and weighs 52kg. Officially, CyberOne is a “robot that’s more human-like than humans.” It can sense human emotions, construct real world virtual dimensions, achieve bipedal posture balance, support up to 21 degrees of freedom, and can simulate human movements.

Many tech fans joke that when Optimus Prime and CyberOne are born, UBTECH, which has no commercial purposes, will be cast aside. Competition is already fierce at the prototype product stage, which is also the current reality of the robotics market.

Because of this, many tech companies focused on humanoid robotics are not only struggling to make profits, but even to guarantee stable income or cash flow. Hence, many companies are either pulling out of the market or changing owners frequently. For example, Boston Dynamics, the global humanoid robot industry leader, has changed three owners in seven years, mainly because it is still difficult to commercialize and mass produce robots after burning a lot of money.

With the increasing development of robot-related industrial chain technologies, such as artificial intelligence, mechanical manufacturing, chips, batteries, algorithms, image and speech recognition, humanoid robots are also “more and more human” in body movement, autonomous action, visual and auditory recognition, and even in dialogue and communication.

However, the entire global humanoid robot industry is actually still in its early stages of development.

In fact, neither Atlas, CyberOne and Walker X, nor other humanoid robots can count as a truly mature and feasible commercial product. Lei Jun also said at Xiaomi’s press conference that humanoid robots need to break through a number of key technologies, and the current cost of humanoid robots is about 600,000-700,000 yuan each, which is not yet possible for mass production.

If the whole track cannot enter the mass production stage, the “100 billion blue ocean market” can only be a “castle in the air”. The commercialization of humanoid robots is nowhere in sight, mainly because the current humanoid robot products are still “not smart enough”.

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