Agility’s humanoid robots are going to handle your Spanx

Up to now, the humanoid robotics industry has been all promises and pilots. While important in the eventual deployment of new technology, these programs involve a small number of robots and often don’t graduate into anything more meaningful. On Thursday, however, Agility announced that it has entered into a formal deal following a successful pilot with logistics giant GXO.

Digit’s first job will be moving plastic totes around a Georgia Spanx factory — which is most definitely not a euphemism. Neither party has revealed precisely how many of the bipedal robots will be pulling boxes off cobots and placing them onto conveyor belts, which likely means the figure is still on the small side. When we’re talking tens or hundreds of thousands, the parties involved would typically be eager to share that info.

The systems are being leased as part of a RaaS (robots-as-a-service) model, rather than being purchased outright. This allows the client to defer the massive upfront costs of such a complex system, while still having access to support and software updates.

GXO began piloting Digit robots last year. The logistics firm also recently announced a pilot deal with one of Agility’s biggest competitors, Apptronik. It’s not clear how one will affect the other.

Peggy Johnson, who stepped into Agility’s CEO role in March, has stressed the firm’s focus on ROI — a marked difference in a category where the results are still largely theoretical.

“There will be many firsts in the humanoid robot market in the years to come, but I’m extremely proud of the fact that Agility is the first with actual humanoid robots deployed at a customer site, generating revenue and solving real-world business problems,” Johnson said. “Agility has always been focused on the only metric that matters — delivering value to our customers by putting Digit to work — and this milestone deployment raises the bar for the entire industry.”

Oregon-based Agility has been ahead of the rest of the market in terms of development and deployment, so it’s not surprising to see the company be the first to another key milestone. Of course, this is still very much early days for the industry and no clear market leader has emerged.

Amazon began piloting Agility systems in its own warehouses last October, but neither company has made a formal announcement with regard to next steps.