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OpenAI is bringing back its robotics department that was shut down in 2020. The company wants to speed up the release of AI-powered robots.

Several sources told Forbes that OpenAI is hiring research engineers to rebuild its robotics division. The new team has only been in place for about two months. A recent job posting said a new hire would be "one of the first members of the team."

OpenAI's goal is to collaborate with robotics companies, not compete with them. It wants to create technology that robot makers can incorporate into their own products. The company recently demonstrated this by working with Figure AI, a robotics startup.

Figure's robot uses an OpenAI AI multimodal model, it might be the new GPT-4o, that can process many types of data, including audio, vision, and language.

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OpenAI's CEO, Sam Altman, had talked about getting back into robotics research in a podcast with Microsoft founder Bill Gates in January. According to Altman, the first attempt was premature.

OpenAI made it more concrete when Figure got its latest round of money in February.

"We've always planned to come back to robotics and we see a path with Figure to explore what humanoid robots can achieve when powered by highly capable multimodal models," said Peter Welinder, VP of Product and Partnerships at OpenAI, back then in a statement to PopSci.

It's not yet clear whether OpenAI will manufacture its own robot parts, something it has struggled with in the past. OpenAI had stopped its own robotics research to focus on making its AI models bigger and better. At the time, co-founder Wojciech Zaremba said they also stopped because they didn't have enough data to train capable robot models.

Robotics was a big deal for OpenAI when it started. In 2019, the research team wrote a paper about how a robotic arm with neural networks learned to solve a Rubik's cube on its own.

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Summary
  • OpenAI is rebuilding its robotics division, which was disbanded in 2020, and is currently hiring research engineers to provide AI models to robot manufacturers in order to accelerate the market introduction of AI-based robots.
  • The goal is to collaborate rather than compete with robot makers, and to develop technologies that can be integrated into existing systems, as OpenAI recently demonstrated through its collaboration with start-up Figure AI.
  • According to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, the initial foray into robotics was premature, but the company always intended to return to robotics.
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Online journalist Matthias is the co-founder and publisher of THE DECODER. He believes that artificial intelligence will fundamentally change the relationship between humans and computers.
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