I’m not sure I’d call this the golden age of humanoid robots, but they sure have been coming out of the woodwork since Tesla announced its intentions to build one back in the summer of 2021. It’s difficult to compare the progress of various systems at the moment (they’re all fairly early stage), but Sanctuary Cognitive Systems Corporate (or the far punchier Sanctuary AI) just hit an important milestone.
The Vancouver, British Columbia, firm just unveiled Phoenix, its own stab at the form factor. The bipedal robot stands 5’7″ and weighs 155 pounds — not dissimilar from the humans it plans to augment (or replace, depending on who you ask). The system is capable of lifting payloads up to 55 pounds and traveling up three miles an hour.
The system sports its own complex hands, with 20 degrees of freedom “that rival human hand dexterity and fine manipulation with proprietary haptic technology that mimics the sense of touch.”
Back in March, the firm announced that it had deployed Phoenix’s predecessor at a Mark’s retail store outside of its native Vancouver. It was a limited pilot last a week, in which the fifth-generation system completed “110 retail-related [tasks], including front and back-of-store activities such as picking and packing merchandise, cleaning, tagging, labelling, folding and more.”
The other key aspect of these sorts of humanoid robots is the “general purpose” bit. In some ways creating a system can hypothetically do anything its human colleagues can in a workplace is a harder challenge than building the hardware itself.
“We designed Phoenix to be the most sensor-rich and physically capable humanoid ever built and to enable Carbon’s rapidly growing intelligence to perform the broadest set of work tasks possible,” says co-founder and CEO Geordie Rose. “We see a future where general-purpose robots are as ubiquitous as cars, helping people to do work that needs doing, in cases where there simply aren’t enough people to do that work.”
Sanctuary’s Carbon platform is at the heart of the general-purpose bit.
“To be general-purpose, a robot needs to be able to do nearly any work task, the way you’d expect a person to, in the environment where the work is,” Rose adds. “While it is easy to get fixated on the physical aspects of a robot, our view is that the robot is just a tool for the real star of the show, which in our case is our proprietary AI control system, the robot’s Carbon-based mind.”
Last March, Sanctuary announced a Series A just shy of $60 million. Eight months later, it revealed that the Canadian government had invested $30 million, putting its total funding north of $100 million.
Looking past all of the renders, Sanctuary provides a good look at where the race to build the ideal humanoid robot stands. Phoenix is far from the kinds of sleek systems we’ve seen in renders (the company very intentionally labeled all of the images in its press kit “not a render”), but that doesn’t make the company’s accomplishments any less valid. Keep in mind, we’re still in the very early stages of something potentially much large.