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BMW to Test General Purpose Robots in Local Automotive Production

May 02, 2024 01:28PM ● By David Dykes

By David Dykes

The CBS News program 60 Minutes reported April 28, 2024, that computer chip maker Nvidia ushered in the artificial intelligence revolution with its groundbreaking software and graphics processing unit, a chip that enables AI by accelerating the processing power of computers.

Correspondent Bill Whitaker met Nvidia’s CEO and co-founder, Jensen Huang, to discuss the company’s innovations and the rapidly expanding range of AI applications, including drug development, weather pattern prediction and more. 

Whitaker’s report also said German automaker BMW plans to start testing an Nvidia GPU-driven prototype called Figure 01 in its Spartanburg County, South Carolina, factory this year.

Figure, a California-based company developing humanoid robots, and BMW Manufacturing earlier this year signed a commercial agreement to deploy general purpose robots in automotive manufacturing environments.

A BMW spokesman said the agreement is exclusive to Plant Spartanburg within the BMW Group. 

Under the agreement, BMW Manufacturing and Figure will pursue a milestone-based approach.

In the first phase, Figure will identify initial use cases to apply the Figure robots in automotive production. Once the first phase has been completed, the Figure robots will begin staged deployment at BMW's manufacturing facility in Spartanburg. 

“We are investigating concepts of using mobile humanoid robots in a limited number of areas,” the BMW spokesman said in an email. “A humanoid robot can manipulate objects of varying complexity, and some objects may require that two ‘hands’ be used versus a gripper.”

He added, “The humanoid robot has the potential to address our current ergonomic topics versus traditional robots, because it offers a wider range of ambidexterity and mobility that can improve efficiency and the work environment for our associates.”

Right now, concept testing is taking place at Figure AI in California, the spokesman said.

"Single-purpose robotics have saturated the commercial market for decades, but the potential of general purpose robotics is completely untapped. Figure's robots will enable companies to increase productivity, reduce costs, and create a safer and more consistent environment," Brett Adcock, founder and CEO of Figure said in announcing the agreement with BMW Manufacturing.

Adcock added, "We look forward to working side-by-side with BMW Manufacturing to integrate AI and robotics into automotive production." 

Beyond the deployment of humanoid robots in an automotive manufacturing environment, BMW Manufacturing and Figure jointly will explore advanced technology topics such as artificial intelligence, robot control, manufacturing virtualization, and robot integration. 

"The automotive industry, and with it the production of vehicles, is evolving rapidly. BMW Manufacturing is committed to integrating innovative technologies in our production systems to drive our future forward as an industry leader and innovator,” said Robert Engelhorn, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing. 

He added, “The use of general purpose robot solutions has the potential to make productivity more efficient, to support the growing demands of our consumers, and to enable our team to focus on the transformation ahead of us."

In the Plant Spartanburg body shop there are more than 2,600 high-tech precision robots. The Titan robots are Kuka’s first six-axis heavy-duty robots capable of handling 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of payload. 

According to BMW officials, using the Titan robots eliminates the conveyor system for this process area.

The Titans pick up the entire underbody and carefully place it in the fixture so studs can be welded on. 

After the process is completed, the Titan moves the underbody from station to station until all the studs are in place. The underbody process is much quicker and flexible with the Titans, the officials say.

60 Minutes reported Nvidia, a California-based company, saw its stock market value soar from $1 trillion to $2 trillion in just eight months this past year, fueled by demand for its cutting-edge technology — the hardware and software that make today's artificial intelligence possible.

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