Worryingly flexible humanoid robot can crush nuts and cut Coke bottles

What's going on in the tech industry right now? Less than a day after OpenAI debuted one awkwardly flirty GPT-4o chatbot update, Unitree unveiled its new, $16,000 G1 Humanoid agenta bipedal robot contortionist who apparently specializes in bow-staff combat, crushing nuts with his bare claws and withstanding a barrage of abuse from his human creators.

The G1 relies on a 360-degree LiDAR system to assess its surroundings and can run about 4.7 miles per hour (about the same speed as an average human jog). Each robot contains between 23-43 degrees of joint motor clearance depending on model specs, and is powered by a 13-string rechargeable lithium power source that supports an 8-core high-performance CPU for approximately 2 hours of battery life. Unitree's announcement video also touts the “Unitree Robot Unified Large Model” (UnifoLM) for reinforcement and imitation learning, as well as over-the-air (OTA) feature updates.

All wiring is encapsulated within the G1's torso and limbs, cleaning up the overall design and allowing it to fold into a compact form while powered down. This, combined with an estimated weight of approximately 30 kg, also makes it easier to be transported by handlers if necessary.

Impressive? Certainly. But it's hard to ignore how strange tech companies' robot showcases are becoming. Nearly a month ago, Boston Dynamics teased a successor to Atlas (RIP, sturdy bot) that showed flexibility as troubling as the G1. Unitree's new design looks strikingly similar to its torso-swiveling, roly-poly Boston Dynamics Atlas replacement, but somehow delves even deeper into the uncanny robot valley in its less than two-minute demonstration video.

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That's certainly one way the G1 can hold its own. Credit: Unitree

Throughout the montage, viewers are subjected to a G1 brandishing a large staff, using his triple-digit fists to crush walnuts into small pieces, and karate chopping off the top of a Coke bottle – while a fair amount of the squirting soda is wasted in the sticks. process. You're also offered the apparently now-requisite clip of a tech company's robot being subjected to a strangely clinical beatdown, this time involving standing kicks to the back and boxing glove punches to the chest. G1 is even shown trying to harm himself by repeatedly hitting one of his fingers with a hammer. And while it does indeed illustrate what the humanoid bot could hypothetically withstand in potentially dangerous work environments, it's still unsettling to see it over and over again. Granted, G1 is also depicted engaging in more benign tasks like soldering wire and flipping a slice of bread in a cooking pan, but then there's the gymnastics.

[Related: Oh good, the humanoid robots are running even faster now.]

Watching this new generation of (arguably overly) flexible robots squeeze themselves into standing positions from the ground, spread across chairs, and turn their torsos 180 degrees to casually wave at someone doesn't feel as friendly as previous models. And why would they? Combining human-like body designs and routine human tasks with decidedly inhuman movements is literally the stuff of horror movies. Offering crushed nut scraps and a broken bottle of soda almost seems strange in comparison.

But no matter how useful or flexible bipedal robots become, the real concern isn't how creepy they get with their somersaults, but which human jobs they hope to replace with a cartwheel.

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