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Columbia Business Monthly

The Business Narrative: Developing Humanoid Robots

May 07, 2024 09:03AM ● By Donna Walker

BMW to Test General Purpose Robots in Local Automotive Production

By David Dykes

 

The CBS News program 60 Minutes reported April 28, 2024, that computer chip maker Nvidia ushered in the artificial intelligence revolution with its groundbreaking software and graphics processing unit, a chip that enables AI by accelerating the processing power of computers.

 

Correspondent Bill Whitaker met Nvidia’s CEO and co-founder, Jensen Huang, to discuss the company’s innovations and the rapidly expanding range of AI applications, including drug development, weather pattern prediction and more. 

 

Whitaker’s report also said German automaker BMW plans to start testing an Nvidia GPU-driven prototype called Figure 01 in its Spartanburg County, South Carolina, factory this year.

 

Figure, a California-based company developing humanoid robots, and BMW Manufacturing earlier this year signed a commercial agreement to deploy general purpose robots in automotive manufacturing environments.

 

A BMW spokesman said the agreement is exclusive to Plant Spartanburg within the BMW Group. 

 

Under the agreement, BMW Manufacturing and Figure will pursue a milestone-based approach.

 

In the first phase, Figure will identify initial use cases to apply the Figure robots in automotive production. Once the first phase has been completed, the Figure robots will begin staged deployment at BMW's manufacturing facility in Spartanburg. 

 

“We are investigating concepts of using mobile humanoid robots in a limited number of areas,” the BMW spokesman said in an email. “A humanoid robot can manipulate objects of varying complexity, and some objects may require that two ‘hands’ be used versus a gripper.”

 

He added, “The humanoid robot has the potential to address our current ergonomic topics versus traditional robots, because it offers a wider range of ambidexterity and mobility that can improve efficiency and the work environment for our associates.”

 

Right now, concept testing is taking place at Figure AI in California, the spokesman said.

 

"Single-purpose robotics have saturated the commercial market for decades, but the potential of general purpose robotics is completely untapped. Figure's robots will enable companies to increase productivity, reduce costs, and create a safer and more consistent environment," Brett Adcock, founder and CEO of Figure said in announcing the agreement with BMW Manufacturing.

 

Adcock added, "We look forward to working side-by-side with BMW Manufacturing to integrate AI and robotics into automotive production." 

 

Beyond the deployment of humanoid robots in an automotive manufacturing environment, BMW Manufacturing and Figure jointly will explore advanced technology topics such as artificial intelligence, robot control, manufacturing virtualization, and robot integration. 

 

"The automotive industry, and with it the production of vehicles, is evolving rapidly. BMW Manufacturing is committed to integrating innovative technologies in our production systems to drive our future forward as an industry leader and innovator,” said Robert Engelhorn, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing. 

 

He added, “The use of general purpose robot solutions has the potential to make productivity more efficient, to support the growing demands of our consumers, and to enable our team to focus on the transformation ahead of us."

 

In the Plant Spartanburg body shop there are more than 2,600 high-tech precision robots. The Titan robots are Kuka’s first six-axis heavy-duty robots capable of handling 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of payload. 

 

According to BMW officials, using the Titan robots eliminates the conveyor system for this process area.

 

The Titans pick up the entire underbody and carefully place it in the fixture so studs can be welded on. 

 

After the process is completed, the Titan moves the underbody from station to station until all the studs are in place. The underbody process is much quicker and flexible with the Titans, the officials say.

 

60 Minutes reported Nvidia, a California-based company, saw its stock market value soar from $1 trillion to $2 trillion in just eight months this past year, fueled by demand for its cutting-edge technology — the hardware and software that make today's artificial intelligence possible.

Duke Energy Progress Proposes Cost Reduction in Annual Adjustment for Fuel With PSC of South Carolina

Duke Energy Progress is seeking to reduce customer bills to account for the cost of fuel used to generate electricity for South Carolina homes and businesses.

 

If approved by the Public Service Commission of South Carolina (PSCSC), the average monthly residential bill would decrease by 4.1 percent beginning Aug. 1.

 

The total monthly impact of these rate changes for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month would be a decrease of $6.23, from $151.74 to $145.51.

 

If approved by the PSCSC, rates for commercial customers would decrease approximately 4.9 percent and rates for industrial customers would decrease approximately 4.4 percent.

 

The specific impact to individual customers will vary according to many factors including electric usage and customer profile dynamics.

 

The PSCSC will consider the rates in a public evidentiary hearing where it will also hear the results of an extensive audit and inquiries of the parties involved in the case to ensure an accurate adjustment is made to billed rates.

 

Duke Energy Progress serves about 175,000 households and businesses in northeastern South Carolina, including Florence, Sumter and Darlington counties.

 

The company's other South Carolina utility – Duke Energy Carolinas – will make its annual fuel filing in July.

 

Why bills will decrease

Duke Energy Progress makes a fuel cost-recovery filing annually in South Carolina.

 

The fuel rate is based on the projected cost of fuel used to provide electric service to the company's customers, plus a true-up of the prior year’s projection compared to actual costs incurred.

 

The PSCSC reviews fuel costs and adjusts the fuel component of customer rates accordingly.

 

Each year, this true-up proceeding is intended to resolve the difference between projected fuel costs and what is actually billed to the customer.

 

The decrease for customer bills in this year’s request is primarily driven by the decreased cost of natural gas year over year, plus a reduced true-up component since the previous fuel cost-recovery filing.

 

Duke Energy Progress makes no profit from the fuel component of rates – actual costs are passed through directly to customers.

 

Helping customers save

Customers struggling to pay their energy bills might qualify for assistance from various government and nonprofit programs for utility bills and other household expenses, or from the Share the Light Fund, a Duke Energy program that provides energy assistance.

 

Duke Energy also offers programs and resources to help customers, as well as flexible payment arrangements to help customers experiencing uncertainty keep their accounts in good standing.

 

To help all customers take control of their energy use, Duke Energy offers energy-saving tips and innovative efficiency programs for every budget.

 

For example, the Home Energy House Call is a free in-home energy assessment that provides customers more information about how they use energy and strategies to save money on their monthly bill.

 

To learn more about these programs, go to duke-energy.com/savings.

 

Duke Energy Progress, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, owns 13,800 megawatts of energy capacity, supplying electricity to 1.7 million residential, commercial and industrial customers across a 28,000-square-mile service area in North Carolina and South Carolina.

Tech24 Strengthens Board of Directors with Three New Members

Greenville, South Carolina-based Tech24, a national industry leader in commercial foodservice equipment repair and maintenance, said Steve Don, Jennifer Mintman and Bill Viveen all recently joined the company's board of directors.

 

Tech24 is backed by private investment firms Vestar Capital Partners and HCI Equity Partners.

 

"Steve, Jennifer, and Bill all possess specific, differentiated skillsets gained from decades in their respective fields that will be advantageous to the Tech24 leadership team as it looks to accelerate organic and acquisitive growth while continuing to provide excellent service to its customers," said Nikhil Bhat, co-head of investments at Vestar, and Doug McCormick, managing partner and CIO of HCI.

 

They added, "All three are executives we've worked with over the years, and we are confident that they will add immediate value to the Board."

 

Tech24 officials said Don is CEO and president of Edward Don & Company (DON), a leading distributor of foodservice equipment and supplies and former Vestar portfolio company, and brings to the board significant experience both with foodservice customers and in the commercial kitchen equipment space. 

 

Mintman is a senior advisor at Vestar, and previously was chief strategy officer of Brightview, the nation's largest commercial landscaping services company.

 

She was also the former general manager of GE Consumer Home Services, a consumer appliance repair and replacement parts and service business, and brings to the board decades of experience in route-based facility services, the officials said.

 

Viveen is CEO of HCI's latest technical service rollup focused on the residential lawn care treatment market. He also is the former CEO of Heartland Home Services, one of the largest residential HVAC providers in the country.

 

Company officials said he brings to the board a strong track record of creating value in service providers through M&A, effective integration, and organic growth initiatives.

 

Viveen joined the board in 2024. Don and Mintman were appointed to the board at the time of Vestar's investment in 2023.

 

Founded in 1982 in Greenville, South Carolina, Tech24 is an industry leader in commercial foodservice equipment repair and maintenance, providing comprehensive repair and preventive maintenance solutions for commercial refrigeration, cooking, beverage, and HVAC equipment.

 

The company services more than 50 markets in 26 states.

Veteran TV Personality Jack Roper To Retire

Jack Roper said he will retire effective May 31, 2024, on Your Carolina, the talk show he has co-hosted for the past 17 years.

 

It’s been 39 years since Roper joined 7News as a meteorologist in 1986 and came home to his family in Union, South Carolina. He had been a finalist in a national weatherman search on ABC’s Good Morning America.

 

He forecast the weather for 22 years, earned his meteorology degree from Mississippi State University, won an Emmy award in 2002, and embedded himself in the community through personal appearances at fundraising and charitable events.

 

Roper was the recipient of the South Carolina Broadcasters Association’s TV Personality of the Year  award in 1988, 1989, 2004 and the Star Award in 2010. 

 

He became host of “Kidsizzle" and received a Best Children’s Program award from South Carolina Broadcasters Association in 1993.

 

“We’re thrilled to have had Jack’s humor and dedication for as long as we did," said WSPA General Manager Kenny Lawrence. “It’s an honor to know him and his family.”

 

In 2017, Roper began hosting the locally produced show, Your Carolina.

 

A self-taught magician and talented drummer, Roper made an appearance on the “Hee Haw” variety show, played banjo on stage with the Smothers Brothers, played drums in concert with the Greenville Symphony, and was the drummer in his own ‘The Weatherman Band.’

 

This year, he won first place in the Upstate Stand Up Comedy competition.

 

Jeff Roper, morning anchor at KIFI in Idaho Falls, followed in his father’s footsteps: “My Dad truly sums up what broadcasting is … to serve the community.” 

 

The elder Roper remains humble.

 

"I will always have deep respect for the Your Carolina community and our many advertisers who showed me incredible kindness these past 40 years. I’m grateful for the exceptional individuals I’ve had the pleasure of working  with … and for the many opportunities provided to me throughout my years at WSPA-TV." 

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