Microsoft taps Sanctuary AI for general-purpose robot research

Microsoft, it seems, is hedging its bets when it comes to general-purpose robotics AI. At the end of February, the Windows maker spearheaded a massive $675 million Series B in Bay Area-based Figure. Today, the tech giant announced a collaboration with Figure competitor Sanctuary AI, best known for its humanoid robot, Phoenix.

The Sanctuary partnership really gets to the heart of Microsoft’s interest in the category: artificial general intelligence. It’s a concept that comes up a lot when discussing humanoid robots — too often, I would argue, given the state of things. While such breakthroughs are likely several years off (at least), they’re required for humanoid robots to reach the long promised “general-purpose status.”

In essence, that means robots that can learn and reason like humans. That represents a potential quantum leap for robotic capabilities, which have traditionally been limited to one or two tasks. The humanoid form factor opens these systems to a far broader range of motion than single-purpose systems, but they will ultimately need the intelligence to match.

“Creating systems that think like, and understand us, is one of the biggest civilization-level technical problems and opportunities that we will ever face,” Sanctuary co-founder and CEO Geordie Rose notes. “A challenge like this requires the best global minds to work together. We’re excited to be working with Microsoft to unlock the next generation of AI models that will power general-purpose robots.”

Such a partnership deepens Microsoft’s commitment to AI development and delivers a partner who can design hardware to those specifications. Sanctuary has been operating in the space for some time now, and recently scored a pilot partnership with Magna, which will bring the latest version of Phoenix to car plants.

All told, Sanctuary robots “have been tested across 400 customer-defined tasks across 15 different industries.” Of course, we’re still in the very early stages of all of this.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke about his own interest in humanoids earlier this year. Neither Sanctuary nor Figure got a mention, though he did spend some time discussing competitors Agility and Apptronik.

Microsoft isn’t alone in hedging its bets in the category. OpenAI (another Microsoft partner) has made its own investments in both Figure and competitor 1X.

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