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OpenAI-backed 1X raises another $100M for the race to humanoid robots

The race to perfect the humanoid form factor will be one of 2024’s defining tech stories. Last year saw the category heat up, as companies like Tesla, Apptronik and Figure debuted their systems, while Agility inched closer to the finish lining, announcing a warehouse pilot with Amazon.

1X is a name (well, a number and letter) that surprisingly doesn’t get as much column space as most of the above. I say “surprising” because the Norwegian firm entered the conversation with a splash back in April, announcing a $23.5 million round. This is one of those fundraising cases where the who arguable matters more than the how much.

Tiger Global’s participation is certainly notable, but it was OpenAI, the round’s lead, that turned the most heads. Understandably so, given the role the firm has played in generative AI’s stratospheric rise over the past year. That underlying technology will almost certainly play an outsized role in shaping robotics’ future, and OpenAI has seemingly picked its horse.

This week, 1X announced that it has nearly quadrupled that already respectable figure with a $100 million Series B. OpenAI’s name is no longer at top of this list, however, with EQT Ventures getting top billing. 1X’s total fundraising now stands at an enviable $125 million.

The heart of the company’s play is NEO. The humanoid robot strikes a similar figure (so to speak) as some of the competition. It also aims to tackle a similar issue — specifically global labor shortages. The logic (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) is that humanoids are the ideal form factor for navigating environments built by humanoids for humanoids. Makes enough sense on its face, right?

There are, however, no shortage of detractors. Some suggest such systems are over engineered. Others (likely rightfully) insist that true general-purpose functionality is much further off than we’re being led to believe. That latter bit, however, is one of the key places where generative AI can do a lot of heavy lifting.

As for where the large sum of money will go, CEO Bernt Øivind Børnich has a refreshingly earnest response, nothing, “This is the first time we are able to offer a payout to our dedicated team. Their contributions have been pivotal to our success.”

The funds will also go toward enhancing the company’s Embodied AI offering and go-to-market for NEO.

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