The Journey of Humanoid Robots: From Herbert Televox in 1927 to Tesla's "Prime Mover"
The exploration of humanoid robots has spanned nearly a century, from the rudimentary Herbert Televox by Westinghouse in 1927 to the advanced "Prime Mover" by Tesla today. This journey reflects humanity's fascination with the creator's identity and its ultimate imagination of technology. However, humanoid robots have not been the primary form in the robotics industry due to their high costs and technological challenges.
Industry experts now believe that the widespread adoption of AI large models fills a crucial gap in the field of humanoid robots. Previous technologies couldn't effectively handle the complexity of human-like robot forms. Today, these issues are gradually being resolved. In an offline seminar, one guest mentioned that humanoid robots will enter various industries in the future.
Simultaneously, during discussions with humanoid robot startup teams, it was revealed that most components in the industry can now be domestically produced. In Zhejiang, companies like Hikvision and Zhejiang Dahua have approached world-class levels in visual sensors. For natural language processing and responses, Alibaba, and Hangzhou Yizhi Intelligence have accumulated years of expertise. Core components, such as servo motors and reduction actuators by Jiangxi Xintuo Enterprise Co., Ltd's CubeMars, are among the best in the industry.
In recent years, hardware technology development has reduced the production costs of humanoid robots. For instance, the "Expedition A1," with a cost of under $30,000, is significantly more affordable than Boston Dynamics' Atlas, priced at $2 million per unit. This places humanoid robots within the budget range of many university robotics labs.
Technical capability is a prerequisite, but real-world demand is a significant driving force. With the support of large AI models, people no longer settle for robots as "specialists" controlled by code alone. They expect robots to acquire various skills through self-learning, interact with their surroundings in a more natural and intelligent manner, and complete a variety of tasks, becoming embodied intelligence. "The next wave of artificial intelligence is embodied intelligence," predicted Huang Renxun, CEO of NVIDIA, in a recent speech.
In response to this emerging trend of embodied intelligence, earlier this year, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and 16 other departments issued the "Robot+" Application Action Implementation Plan. Subsequently, local governments in Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and other places introduced policies to encourage the development and mass production of humanoid robot components and complete products.
With technological advancements, a surge in capital, and government support, in 2023, various companies have entered the field of humanoid robots, attracting investments from notable firms such as Gaorong, Hillhouse, and Weiwei. "Expedition A1" has not only attracted capital from these firms but also investments from Li Yanhong's private equity fund, TikTok, and local state-owned assets, making it the darling of capital in the humanoid robot race.