Figure 01 Humanoid Robot Promises To Bolster An Aging Workforce

The first glimpse the public got of Tesla's "Optimus" wasn't a robot at all — it was a digital render and a human in a robot suit. However, Tesla did eventually demonstrate they were actually working on a workhorse robot at last year's AI day. A test model built with third-party parts even wandered on stage and waved at everyone. An early version of the actual Optimus turned up and gave everyone a wave, too — though it had to be wheeled out on a trolley. 

Fast forward to this week, and Optimus again turned up during Tesla's Investor Day 2023. The robot did not appear on stage, but a short video was played which showed Optimus picking up a robot arm and walking a short distance with it. Another Optimus was shown using tools too. It's not clear exactly how accurately the video displays Tesla's progress, but there's a lot of talk surrounding humanoid robots and their role in the workforce lately.

Elon Musk's Tesla has grabbed most of the headlines after making steady progress with Optimus, and now another company has emerged that seems to be developing a very similar product. Figure, a robotics startup claiming to have over a century's worth of experience on its 42-person team, has "emerged from stealth" with a possible contender to Optimus. "Figure 01" has a similar design, is being created to fit a similar purpose, and has similar specifications to Tesla's effort.

Tesla isn't the only humanoid robot manufacturer in town

Musk recently made predictions about how Tesla's bot could impact the workforce, inferring bots like Optimus could become as common as human beings in a few years — and he isn't the only one theorizing a 1:1 bot-to-person ratio. Figure's founder and CEO Brett Adcock has essentially echoed Musk's words, saying that there will be "One robot for every human on the planet."

Like Tesla, Figure has clearly identified gaps in the labor force its robots could fill. This bot isn't being built as a technological flex — it has a clear purpose. Figure's bots will allegedly be well-suited to things like warehouse and retail work, but could also be used to care for the elderly. 

Even if you're not elderly, you could still have a Figure 01 looking after you. As with Tesla, Figure believes economies of scale and automation will eventually make its bots affordable. Getting a robot butler to pitch in with household chores may be as normalized as buying a dishwasher in a few years.

The computing side of things also parallels Tesla's plans. Advanced AI, which is capable of learning and solving puzzles, is a key part of any humanoid robot. Instead of building specific robots for specific tasks, companies can build one and the bots can work things out from there. If there weren't enough parallels with the mind of Elon Musk, Adcock is also talking about his robots potentially helping humanity colonize space.

How does Figure 01 compare to Optimus?

The obvious question is how does Figure 01 compare and stack up against Optimus? Well, we won't know for sure until both bots make it to release. Early prototypes won't tell us much beyond basic functionality, and price details are scarce. Musk is predicting under $20,000, and Figure claims its robots will be "affordable," but that could easily change.

Both companies have also released specs for each bot. While these stats may change with the final product, we can still compare the information we have so far. The specs as listed tell us that Optimus is noticeably faster than Figure 01. It can hit speeds of around five mph, while Figure 01 caps out at 2.5 mph. Figure 01 also weighs a little more, tipping the scales at just over 130 pounds, while Tesla's bot is a trim 125.

Optimus is two inches taller than Figure's effort, and assuming "20 KG payload" relates to carrying capacity, both robots are around the same. They can both hoist 45 pounds, though Tesla has a 150-pound "deadlift," and Figure has not made any deadlift-related claims. 

While Tesla hasn't given us exact battery life estimates for Optimus, Musk has claimed the bot will be able to work "for a full day" without needing to charge. Figure claims the Figure 01 can go for four hours before plugging in.

It's early days, and who knows how things will change between now and the time these bots actually hit the market. But as things stand, Tesla seems to have a slight edge when it comes to humanoid-shaped robot specs.