Accenture invests in humanoid maker Sanctuary AI

Sanctuary’s Phoenix humanoid is being developed to support a variety of tasks. | Credit: Sanctuary AI

In its Technology Vision 2024 report, Accenture said 95% of the executives it surveyed agreed that “making technology more human will massively expand the opportunities of every industry.” Well, today Accenture put its money where its mouth is. Accenture Ventures announced a strategic investment in Sanctuary AI, one of the companies developing humanoid robots.

The Robot Report reached out to Sanctuary to learn more about the investment but hadn’t heard back at press time. This article will be updated if more details are learned. Financial details of the investment were not disclosed.

Vancouver, Canada-based Sanctuary was founded in 2018 by Geordie Rose, Suzanne Gildert, Olivia Norton, and Ajay Agrawal. In December 2023, the company announced the acquisition of intellectual property from Giant.AI Inc. and Tangible Research to improve its touch and grasping technologies.

Humanoids are generating a lot of interest these days. Figure recently raised $675 million and is piloting its humanoid with BMW. Agility Robotics has piloted its Digit humanoid with Amazon and GXO Logistics. Apptronik recently announced a partnership with BMW. NVIDIA also announced a foundation model for humanoids, called GROOT, that is designed to bring robotics and embodied AI together.

Sanctuary focused on dexterous manipulation

While other humanoid developers have focused much of their energy on bipedal locomotion, Sanctuary has taken a different approach with its Phoenix robot. It believes object manipulation is the key to humanoid success in the market and has put most of its energy into hand-eye coordination and AI intelligence to support dexterous manipulation.

Sanctuary has published a series of videos of its robots “doing stuff” on YouTube (see video at the bottom of the story). These videos illustrate the development path of the two-armed humanoid as well as the AI behind the robots’ decision-making.

Powered by Carbon, Phoenix is now autonomously completing simple tasks at human-equivalent speed. This is an important step on the journey to full autonomy. Phoenix is unique among humanoids in its speed, precision, and strength, all critical for industrial applications.

— Geordie Rose (@realgeordierose) February 28, 2024

“AI-powered humanoid robots are essential to reinventing work and supporting human workers as labor shortage is becoming an issue in many countries and industries,” said Joe Lui, Accenture’s global advanced automation and robotics lead. “Sanctuary AI’s advanced AI platform trains robots to react to their environment and perform new tasks with precision in a very short time. We see huge potential for their robots in post and parcel, manufacturing, retail, and logistics warehousing operations, where they could complement and collaborate with human workers and automate tasks that traditional robotics can’t.”

Building an AI brain

Phoenix is powered by Sanctuary’s AI control system, Carbon, which attempts to mimic subsystems found in the human brain. The approach taken by the company also seeks to make the AI actions explainable, as well as editable.

“Robots with human-like intelligence will completely transform the workforce of the future,” said Rose, chief executive officer and co-founder of Sanctuary AI. “By combining Accenture’s expertise in disruptive technology with Sanctuary AI’s industry-leading robotics, we can help some of the biggest companies in the world manage this change and provide the best solutions for its clients.”

Accenture’s growing robotics portfolio

The investment in Sanctuary is the latest move by Accenture to build out a robotics strategy. In January 2024, Accenture and Mujin created a joint venture to help bring robotics to the manufacturing and logistics industries. Called Accenture Alpha Automation, the new venture is owned 70% by Accenture and 30% by Mujin. The new company, called Accenture Alpha Automation, combines Mujin’s industrial robotics expertise with Accenture’s digital engineering and manufacturing service, Industry X.

Accenture Alpha Automation is located in Japan, which is a robotics powerhouse. Japan had the fourth-highest robot density of any country in 2022, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Robot density measures the number of operational industrial robots per 10,000 employees in a country.

Accenture has also built out robotics integration capabilities in recent years. In early 2021, Accenture acquired Pollux, a provider of industrial robotics and automation. This was Accenture’s first acquisition of the kind. At the time of the deal, Pollux had implemented more than 1,000 projects for manufacturing companies, primarily in Brazil. It said it has deployed 150-plus collaborative robots successfully throughout Brazil.

In 2022, Accenture acquired Eclipse Automation, a provider of custom automation and robotics solutions for manufacturing applications. Eclipse Automation creates automated manufacturing systems for life sciences, industrial equipment, automotive, energy and consumer goods companies.

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