Robot takeover? Agility Robotics to open first-ever factory to mass produce humanoid robots

If those animatronics at amusement parks or Arnold Schwarzinger's character in "The Terminator" set you on edge, you might want to keep away from Agility Robotics' newest factory.

The creators of Digit, a human-sized bipedal robot complete with "eyes," are bringing the world's first humanoid robot factory to Oregon, creatively named RoboFab.

Agility Robotics announced the opening in Salem, Oregon on Monday, saying they expect to soon have the capacity to produce 10,00 robots annually. Construction of the 70,000-square-foot facility began last year and is set to open in late 2023.

Creating advanced robots for sale to the public is a new development in the robotics industry, as access to such high-end tech has been generally reserved for entities such as businesses and government agencies in the past.

Now, however, Damion Shelton, Agility Robotics’ co-founder and CEO, said the opening of the facility marks a pivotal moment in the history of robots: the beginning of mass production of commercial humanoid bots.

“We built Digit to solve difficult problems in today’s workforce like injuries, burnout, high turnover and unfillable labor gaps, with the ultimate vision of enabling humans to be more human," Shelton told the Salem Statesman Journal, part of the USA TODAY network. "When you’re building new technology to make society better, the most important milestone is when you’re able to mass produce that technology at a scale where it can have a real, widespread impact.”

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Digit, the original humanoid robot

The first iteration of Digit was initially released in 2020 and featured a bipedal, human-sized design, though it was eerily headless. This Digit was capable of preforming some tasks autonomously, such as picking up a box, but would need help from a human to navigate through a room.

The new and improved version was released in March of this year, complete with a head and new set of animated LED "eyes." Described as "human-centric" and "multi-purpose," Digit's intended use is in warehouses and industrial spaces, performing dangerous or strenuous tasks that often cause injury to human workers, such as moving heavy materials.

“Supply chains are still feeling the aftereffects of the pandemic, and the demand for warehouse labor far exceeds available talent. Companies are turning to automation now more than ever to help mitigate future disruptions," Shelton said in a press release at the time. "With logistics labor issues such as high turnover, burnout, and injury continuing to rise, we believe Digit to be the future of work."

While Digit seems to have big ambitions to climb the corporate ladder, the robot currently still has fairly limited functionality, relegated mostly to simple tasks such as picking up and putting down objects, walking and crouching.

The latest iteration of digit includes a head complete with LED eyes.
The latest iteration of digit includes a head complete with LED eyes.

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Robots, humans working together

Construction is underway to bring the world's first humanoid robot factory to Salem.
Construction is underway to bring the world's first humanoid robot factory to Salem.

At full capacity, the new factory will employ 500 human workers who will work alongside Digit robots to build, well, more robots. The robots already work in Agility's customer sites, moving, loading and unloading totes.

Company officials said they anticipate production capacity of hundreds of Digit robots in the first year, with the capability to scale to more than 10,000 robots per year.

"Digit is designed from the ground up to go where people go and do useful work, safely, in spaces designed for people," company officials said. "Because so many tasks are designed around human workflows, Digit’s human-centric design enables multi-purpose utility."

Customers in the company's Agility Partner Program can expect to receive the first Digit robots in 2024, according to the company. Digit is scheduled to be available in the general market in 2025 for a yet undisclosed price.

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Agility Robotics to open first factory mass producing humanoid robots