Meet Phoenix: The new humanoid robot built for general-purpose tasks

A robot is just a tool, the real star is the AI control system.
Ameya Paleja
Sanctuary AI's Phoenix
Sanctuary AI's Phoenix

Sanctuary AI/YouTube 

At five feet seven inches (5"7') and 155 pounds (70 kg), Phoenix, the humanoid robot, is just about the height of an average human. What it aims to do is also something that humans can casually do, general tasks in an environment, and that is a tough ask from a robot.

While humanoid assistants have been familiar with most science-fiction stories, translating them to the real world has been challenging. Companies like Tesla have been looking to make them part of households for a few years, but robots have always been good at doing specific tasks.

Recently, Interesting Engineering reported how researchers at Princeton University had succeeded in getting a robotic arm to tidy up around the house like picking up clothes and sorting waste into different receptacles using a large language model (LLM). This way, a robot could perform tasks according to its owner's preferences.

British Columbia-based Sanctuary Cognitive Systems Corporate has been working to develop a general-purpose robot much before the term LLM spread like wildfire last year.

What can a general-purpose robot do?

Founded in 2018, Sanctuary brings the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics under one roof and has been striving to make a human-like brain and system that can complete tasks with the ease humans do.

Pheonix is the company's sixth-generation humanoid with hands that have 20 degrees of freedom and can mimic the agility and refined manipulation capabilities of its human counterpart, Tech Crunch said in its report.

The humanoid has a payload capacity of up to 55 pounds (25 kg) and can travel at the speed of three miles (~five km) an hour, much like a regular human. It can also work at a retail store, just like a human.

In a pilot conducted in March this year, the humanoid was assigned to a retail store in Vancouver, where it performed 110 retail-related tasks at both the front and the back end of the store. This included picking and packaging merchandise, labeling, tagging, folding, and cleaning up the store.

Although the pilot lasted a week, the hero of the achievement is not the robot but the AI system that drives it. Sanctuary has dubbed its system Carbon and has designed it to perform the broadest set of tasks possible.

The Sanctuary is confident that while others build specific-use robots, robots that can perform general-purpose tasks will be ubiquitous as cars shortly and ready to step up when there aren't enough people to do the job,

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