Microsoft and OpenAI are reportedly in talks to invest $100 million into robotics startup Figure — suggesting that they might hope to combine their tech with its humanoid robot.
The background: A lot of humanoid robots can look impressive in demos but turn out to be highly limited in reality.
To have a big impact in the workforce, these machines need to be not only physically capable of doing a job — a tricky enough engineering challenge — but also smart enough to tackle a huge variety of tasks with minimal training and supervision.
Bots that need a human to constantly push them in the right direction or stop them from doing the wrong thing are more trouble than they’re worth.
Robotics startup Figure AI is on a mission to bring such bots to the world — in March 2023, it unveiled Figure 01, a general purpose humanoid robot that will soon be working alongside BMW employees at one of the automaker’s manufacturing plants.
Robo-unicorn: In 2023, Figure secured $70 million in its first round of external fundraising, and it is now in talks to raise another $500 million, which gives the company a valuation of around $2 billion, according to a Bloomberg report that cites an anonymous source “with knowledge of the matter.”
That source also told Bloomberg that tech giant Microsoft and OpenAI — the AI firm behind ChatGPT — are expected to lead the funding round. One scenario would see Microsoft putting $95 million into the startup, while OpenAI adds another $5 million.
Looking ahead: It’s possible Microsoft and OpenAI envision combining their own tech with Figure’s to dominate the workplace robot industry — OpenAI’s GPT models might give the humanoid robot advanced language capabilities, for example, allowing it to easily understand human instructions.
If the deal goes through, it wouldn’t be the first time OpenAI has invested in a startup building humanoid robots, either — in 2023, the OpenAI Startup Fund led a $23.5 million investment round into Norwegian company 1X, which is developing two bots.
Microsoft, OpenAI, and Figure all declined Bloomberg’s request for comment, though, and likely won’t talk until some sort of deal is finalized, so for now, this is all speculation — but if Figure does secure the investment, it will have two hugely powerful tech companies in its corner.
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