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Rise of the Machines: Robots Set to Mass Produce Other Robots at First 'Humanoid' Factory

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In news evoking the apocalyptic movie “The Terminator,” a company out of Corvallis, Oregon, has announced plans to build the first mass-produced humanoid robots — and it intends to use other robots to build them.

The robot model first on the drawing board is set to be named “Digit.” It has two arms and two legs, and the company, Agility Robotics, says the machine will be able to maneuver and work alongside humans, according to CNBC.

Agility Robotics says on its website that its planned “RoboFab” robot factory, contained in a 70,000-square-foot facility in Salem, Oregon, will be the first of its kind, with the capacity to produce 10,000 “Digit” robots a year.

“The opening of our factory marks a pivotal moment in the history of robotics: the beginning of the mass production of commercial humanoid robots,” Damion Shelton, Agility Robotics’ co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.

“We built Digit to solve difficult problems in today’s workforce like injuries, burnout, high turnover and unfillable labor gaps, with the ultimate vision of enabling humans to be more human,” Shelton added. “When you’re building new technology to make society better, the most important milestone is when you’re able to mass produce that technology at a scale where it can have a real, widespread impact.”

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The Digit robot is described as “human-centric” and “multi-purpose,” and the company contends that it is ideal for warehouse work and industrial factory work. Agility Robotics says Digit can perform tasks that are too repetitive or dangerous for human workers.

While robots will be used in the company’s RoboFab, the company says it will be hiring 500 humans to work alongside its robot workforce to manufacture the Digit models, the Oregon Statesman Journal reported.

“Digit is designed from the ground up to go where people go and do useful work, safely, in spaces designed for people,” Agility Robotics says on its website. “Because so many tasks are designed around human workflows, Digit’s human-centric design enables multi-purpose utility. Initial applications include bulk material handling within warehouses and distribution centers.”

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The company is hoping to see its first finished robots walk off the assembly line in 2024, and it intends to start marketing to the general public the following year.

The first devices will be offered to participants in the company’s Agility Partner Program.

Agility Robotics Chief Operating Officer Aindrea Campbell, who previously worked for Ford and Apple, said the company chose the Corvallis site because it is close to Agility’s robot research and development facility.

“Not only are we building the world’s first factory for humanoid robots, but we’re doing so in the United States about 30 miles from our engineering center which is fantastic for setting us up to scale quickly,” Campbell said in a statement on the company’s website.

“By establishing RoboFab as a state-of-the-art manufacturing hub in Salem, Oregon, we are not only accelerating the development and deployment of advanced robotic systems, but also cultivating innovation and creating high-skilled job opportunities,” she said.

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Campbell told CNBC that it’s “a really big endeavor, not something where you flick a switch and suddenly turn it on.”

“There’s kind of a ramp-up process,” she said. “The inflection point today is that we’re opening the factory, installing the production lines and starting to grow capacity and scale with something that’s never been done before.”

Shelton added that the timing for his new robot is perfect.

“Supply chains are still feeling the aftereffects of the pandemic, and the demand for warehouse labor far exceeds available talent. Companies are turning to automation now more than ever to help mitigate future disruptions,” he said in a statement last year. “With logistics labor issues such as high turnover, burnout, and injury continuing to rise, we believe Digit to be the future of work.”

“Terminator” fans may be slightly underwhelmed by the current Digit robot. While Agility Robotics is continuing its research and development, the machine “still has fairly limited functionality, relegated mostly to simple tasks such as picking up and putting down objects, walking and crouching,” USA Today reported.

The devices are also not exact replicas of humans, even as they are being deemed a “humanoid” machine. For instance, they will not have five-fingered hands.

“Human style hands are very complex,” Shelton told CNBC. “When I see robots that have five fingers, I think, ‘Oh, great. Someone built a robot, then they built two more robots onto that robot.’ You should have a ‘hand’ that is no more complex than you need for the job.”

Ultimately, Shelton said, he doesn’t think his products will “steal jobs” from humans, arguing there are plenty of repetitive, dangerous or menial jobs that lack enough human candidates to fill. Those are jobs that are ideal for Digit and its future relatives, he said.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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