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Figure takes on Tesla, others in AI robot race

Figure Founder and CEO Brett Adcock joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the company's autonomous humanoid robot, the future of AI, and the impact of humanoids on the economy.

Video transcript

- The artificial intelligence takeover is escalating as big tech companies like Microsoft and Alphabet double down on their exposure. But one company is already taking it to the next level. Figure has announced a new funding round today, as it pushes forward on its development of its autonomous humanoid robot. Brett Adcock, Figure founder and CEO, joins us now alongside "Yahoo Finance" executive editor Brian Sozzi.

So Brett, let's get right into this. The robot, what is its purpose?

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BRETT ADCOCK: Well, thanks for having me on this morning. So Figure's designing and commercializing autonomous humanoid robots. These are robots that have two legs, two arms, hands, can basically operate in a physical environment similar to humans.

Our vision here is to deploy these robots to do physical labor. So we want these robots to do physical tasks in the real world, such as warehousing, manufacturing, retail. We see enormous amount of unemployment happening. And just an overall flat line and basically the amount of people in the workforce. And we really hope humanoid robotics can help on the automation side fill that void and do jobs that are dangerous, monotonous, boring.

BRIAN SOZZI: Brett, Brian here. Good to speak with you. $70 million, it's a lot of money. Where are you going to spend it? And do you have orders for these products yet?

BRETT ADCOCK: Well, first off, we announced the $70 million Series A today day led by Parkway Venture Capital and a bunch of other just really great venture capitalists and investors. We're going to spend that money on four areas over the next 24 months.

The first is overall robot development. So we've finished our first generation robot that is fully assembled moving our lab now. We're on to our second generation. We're working on manufacturing. We're building out and designing end-to-end AI Data Engine. And then we're working on our commercial go-to market. On that topic, we are in pretty deep discussions, at this point, with a few of the top tier household name groups in the US to deploy humanoids into areas where these companies are seeing significant labor shortages in overall jobs that are dangerous and repetitive that we can go in and help automate.

- Brett, I'm curious why it has to be humanoid. In other words, I think about, for example, an auto assembly line, where a lot of that is automated by different types of robots, I guess, functions. What are the situations where specifically a humanoid would be necessary? Give us some examples.

BRETT ADCOCK: I think, for the most part, so many things have been automated today that are relatively easy. So you walk in a manufacturing facility and warehouse, anything that could be automated has basically been done.

We think the advantage to a humanoid form is being able to do anything a human can in the physical world. So that means in a warehouse, that means interacting with shelves, moving items, unloading trucks, depalletizing, restocking shelves. We view the labor population at this point-- basically, labor population is flatlining globally. Demographically, the baby boomers have retired or retiring. We've haven't had as many children as we probably want. And we're basically having a huge issue in the labor population.

So in the US alone, there's almost 11 million jobs that are just not wanted. And we really hope humanoids can basically move into a world that was built for humans and seamlessly interact with that world and do work. So our goal is to put humanoids in these initial areas and warehousing, manufacturing, and retail to basically fill that labor void. Over time, our humanoid should be able to do anything a human can. That will take a lot of time and development for us to get all the way there end-to-end. But that's the aspiration we have.

BRIAN SOZZI: Brett, we were just showing a side-by-side graphic. Your robot versus Tesla's Optimus robot. How far ahead is Tesla? Are they even ahead at this point?

BRETT ADCOCK: I can't really speak to maybe what Tesla's doing internally. But at least for us, we finished our full-scale development of our humanoid in December. We just got the robot fully brought up and put together a few months ago. And as of last week, we did our first robot steps. So the robot actually did its first basic steps in the office, like, the first baby steps.

BRIAN SOZZI: What was the office vibe when you saw that? That's kind of creepy.

BRETT ADCOCK: It was incredible. We worked so hard for last year. And to see something actually go from digital, say, software or CAD into like a physical embodied robot and actually work was just a huge payoff for the team. And now, coming off this funding round, we actually have the capital to make really large scale investments into the engineering and product side. We're roughly 50 people today. And it's arguably one of the best teams in humanoid robotics.

We're all pretty fired up. And we basically have a vision now into the next 24 months to demonstrate commercial viability. And then, ultimately, getting to market and proving that humanoids can be helpful to society.

- So to elaborate further or to take Brian's question out further, Brett, just about the competitive landscape, what does it look like for you when you think about? Because first initially, when you saw stuff like this, you think Boston Dynamics. And now, you have the Tesla bot, and you all. So how were you all going to stay competitive with a heavy hitter like a Tesla? Again, I agree. This is a little creepy to me.

BRETT ADCOCK: So I think the heritage and the humanoid robotics last 10 years has been very deep in R&D. There's been a lot of research and development groups like Boston Dynamics, IHMC. Honda had ASIMO project. Toyota had a project doing humanoid robotics. For us, we look at where are the commercial groups looking, who's got robots that can walk, can have hands that can manipulate and move objects to the world, have the right capital to really get this done, and have the right commercial viability to bring it to market.

We think there's very few companies in the world that have the ability to do that today. I think what Tesla is doing is incredible. We're watching from afar and rooting for them. And here, internally, we feel there's a chance for us to, hopefully, in the next 24 months to demonstrate and then commercialize the technology, which I think will be really incredible. I think it'll feel like 50 years of the future got pulled forward. And I think having humanoids in the economy will be just a huge benefit. And we can really help fill a really big void in the economy that's happening today.

- Brett, you're probably familiar with the comments that Elon Musk has been making pretty consistently about AI and the dangers of AI. And he's not the only one. And we refer frequently in this conversation to the creepiness. There was this unsettling nature to having a humanoid robot. If you've got a humanoid robot in AI, how do you reassure people about that psychological, emotional response to something like that?

BRETT ADCOCK: I think it starts on the top. Our goal is not to basically develop and design an unsafe product. We won't do any military or law enforcement work ever. I wrote about this in the company manifesto. And we spend a lot of time on cybersecurity, just the hardware side of things, and the software side of things to make sure that we're designing a safe robot. We're ultimately designing a electromechanical robot. So it's fully electric.

I would almost think of this as almost like a we don't want to design a very heavy duty robot. We basically want to design a robot that can basically do the minimally viable of what humans can, move light payloads around, help do work. So we're really designing a labor tool. We want to basically design automation that can help the world and do all these things in the economy that we don't have people to do today.

You walk into any manufacturing or warehouse facility today, it's not as if we were taking people's jobs. They're having 2% weekly attrition, over 100% annual turnover. These jobs are walking 10 plus miles a day, picking 50 items an hour in very hot warehouses. We feel like there's a real need to help fill this problem in the society. And we hope that a humanoid will be able to interact with that. So our view is to, hopefully, design a really important product and really safe product that can do well for humanity long term.

And I think there's a real path to do that. But we have to do that very thoughtfully.

- And it not necessarily thinking for itself and becoming our new robot overlords. It sounds like more of service tool. Brett Adcock, Figure founder and CEO, really fascinating conversation. Thank you so much. And "Yahoo Finance" executive editor Brian Sozzi joining us for that convo as well. Thank you.