Talking Chinese humanoid is hot on the heels of OpenAI/Figure

Following in the footsteps of the GPT-enhanced Figure 01 humanoid we marveled at last month, China’s UBTech has partnered with Baidu to give its new industrial Walker S humanoid the power of natural speech and real-time reasoning.

Shenzhen-based UBTech was founded in 2012 and introduced its first humanoid a couple of years later – albeit a pint-sized toy bot. A few hundred of these Alpha Bots gathered for a dance off in 2016, but it was a Dobi variant that entered the Guinness World Record books in 2017 with a gathering of more than a thousand bipeds busting moves in unison.

The company flexed its educational muscle last year with a crowdfunder for a robot build kit that enabled young scientists to create seven bots. But the subject of today’s multitasking video is a variant of the company’s full-size Walker service bot that was demonstrated at CES 2018.

The new Walker S was one of two humanoids onstage with execs in Hong Kong late last year, to bash the gong and mark the listing of the company on the stock exchange. Now it’s looking to challenge the likes of Figure 01, Eve and Phoenix by showing off its chatting, folding and pick-n-place skills.

UBTECH x Baidu: One Step Closer to Real-World Embodied Intelligent Applications

Those natural conversation chops are thanks to the integration of search giant Baidu’s ERNIE Bot multi-modal AI platform launched last year. The response time between human vocal prompt and response from the Walker S seems about the same as we saw from Figure’s GPT-enhanced demo in mid-March, perhaps even a little snappier.

ERNIE Bot and variable learning models are used to work out what task is required, and how to complete it. The folding technique here is somewhat sloppy compared to a human sales assistant at the mall, but probably on par with my own hurried attempts to get the washing put away as quickly as possible – and it seems that the robot can even offer fashion advice.

Meanwhile, the pick and place demo shows real-time task flexibility, with the sneaky human removing items from the tray and plonking them back in front, only for the Walker S to move them to the correct end point without complaint. Completion of such tasks may be slower than human workers at the moment, but the benefit of having a tireless, compliant and precise robo-operatives on the production line seems like a no-brainer for manufacturers.

UBTech launched the Walker S last year to serve industrial applications, and quickly entered into partnerships with several auto makers – including NIO – “to strategically plan the phased implementation of humanoid robots in manufacturing scenarios.”

The new bot lacks its own presence on the company’s website at the moment, so we’re unable to dive into details but you’ll note that it has an Optimus meets Figure 01 kind of look to it. It sports swirling circular visuals for the face rather than cutesy animations found on the company’s original Walker bot. Onboard depth sensors and vision cameras help it process and navigate the world around it, along with 3D object recognition for obstacle avoidance. And it even appears to have snap-on human-like hands for object manipulation.

UBTech’s collaboration with Baidu is just the start of its AI-enhanced journey of course, and it will be interesting to see how ERNIE Bot stacks up against GPT running on Figure’s 01 humanoid, and what leaps will result from NVIDIA’s entry into the space. Given the incredibly fast pace of recent development in this area, we’re guessing astonishing advances in technologies and capabilities are not too far off.

Source: UBTech

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