Robots with humanoid appearances are being put to work in warehouses for the first run of a new type of labor, working alongside actual humans for basic tasks.
According to Axios, the new model, known as Apollo, was revealed on August 23rd by the startup company Apptronik, which is based in Austin, Texas. The Apollo model is five feet and eight inches tall and weighs approximately 160 pounds; it is capable of lifting up to 55 pounds. The first models are being used for the most basic tasks in warehouses, such as lifting boxes and other heavy containers.
“Science fiction has promised us these for a long time,” said Apptronik CEO Jeff Cardenas. “Initially, it’s going to start working in the supply chain, doing basic material handling tasks, moving boxes and totes.”
The Apollo model can run for four hours before it needs to have its batteries replaced. Early issues with the model include keeping the robot upright while it walks so it does not fall over, getting it to handle items properly without fumbling, and holding a charge long enough to be of any use.
The current version of Apollo “has initial applications, but it’s a software update away from a new feature or functionality,” Cardenas added. “Long term, really the sky’s the limit in terms of what these types of systems will be able to do.”
Cardenas said that Apptronik only has a small handful of customers at the moment, and wouldn’t disclose their names. However, he insisted that the Apollo model is already prepared for “mass manufacturability.”
“Right now we have two Apollos that are built, and we’re building another four,” Cardenas continued. “These are the alpha units … our engineering validation prototypes.” The company plans to build roughly 100 beta units, which will be put to work outside of Apptronik’s laboratories, and “from there, we move into full production, by the end of 2024.”
Goldman Sachs reports that the market for humanoid robots like the Apollo model “could be economically viable in factory settings between 2025 to 2028, and in consumer applications between 2030 and 2035,” according to a research report published in November.
Goldman “estimates a $6 billion market (or more) in people-sized-and-shaped robots is achievable in the next 10 to 15 years,” and that “such a market would be able to fill 4% of the projected U.S. manufacturing labor shortage by 2030 and 2% of global elderly care demand by 2035.”
However, Goldman Sachs notes, such technology still has not been “successfully commercialized yet,” primarily due to the fact that such models as Apollo “can work in only short one- or two-hour bursts before they need recharging.”