Nvidia enlists humanoid robotics’ biggest names for new AI platform, GR00T

Mike Powers
Nvidia enlists humanoid robotics’ biggest names for new AI platform, GR00T

It’s tough to argue with Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang when he notes, “Building foundation models for general humanoid robots is one of the most exciting problems to solve in AI today.” The humanoid form factor is one of the most hotly contested topics in the world of robotics at the moment, raising venture capital by the boatload, while generating massive skepticism along the way.

Naturally, Nvidia wants a piece. The chip giant has become arguably the most important hardware company in AI and has more recently been making a compelling case for itself as a driver for robotic innovation through initiatives like Isaac and Jetson. This week at its annual GTC developer conference, the company is planting its flag in the humanoid race with Project GR00T, which may or may not be a nod to Marvel’s illeist talking space tree.

The chipmaker refers to the new platform as “a general-purpose foundation model for humanoid robots.” In essence, the company is building an AI platform for the recent spate of entries into the category, including companies like 1X Technologies, Agility Robotics, Apptronik, Boston Dynamics, Figure AI, Fourier Intelligence, Sanctuary AI, Unitree Robotics and XPENG Robotics. That covers nearly every prominent humanoid robot maker at the moment, with a few notable exceptions like Tesla.

Agility gets additional facetime in the announcement, courtesy of a quote from co-founder and Chief Robotics Officer Jonathan Hurst: “We are at an inflection point in history, with human-centric robots like Digit poised to change labor forever. Modern AI will accelerate development, paving the way for robots like Digit to help people in all aspects of daily life. We’re excited to partner with NVIDIA to invest in the computing, simulation tools, machine learning environments and other necessary infrastructure to enable the dream of robots being a part of daily life.”

Sanctuary AI co-founder and CEO Geordie Rose also weighs in: “Embodied AI will not only help address some of humanity’s biggest challenges, but also create innovations which are currently beyond our reach or imagination. Technology this important shouldn’t be built in silos, which is why we prioritize long-term partners like NVIDIA.”

GR00T will support new hardware from Nvidia, as well. Keeping things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Jetson Thor, a new computer designed specifically for running simulation workflows, generative AI models and more for the humanoid form factor. I continue to caution people away from casually tossing out terms like “general purpose” when describing these machines, but Nvidia’s keen interest is a validation for the category that will almost certainly accelerate development.

Nvidia notes of the new silicon:

The SoC includes a next-generation GPU based on NVIDIA Blackwell architecture with a transformer engine delivering 800 teraflops of 8-bit floating point AI performance to run multimodal generative AI models like GR00T. With an integrated functional safety processor, a high-performance CPU cluster and 100GB of ethernet bandwidth, it significantly simplifies design and integration efforts.

While general purpose is still years off, democratizing access for third-party developers will go a long ways toward bridging that gap.

This week’s GTC robotics announcements included two more key programs: Isaac Manipulator and Isaac Perceptor. Manipulation has been a foundation aspect of robotics for decades now. Leading the way were the massive industrial robotic arms that have become a fixture of automotive manufacturing. The next generation will be even more dexterous and far more mobile. Naturally, Nvidia wants a piece of the action.

“Isaac Manipulator offers state-of-the-art dexterity and modular AI capabilities for robotic arms, with a robust collection of foundation models and GPU accelerated libraries,” the company writes. “It provides up to an 80x speedup in path planning and zero shot perception increases efficiency and throughput, enabling developers to automate a greater number of new robotic tasks.”

Nvidia already has some big names on board, including, Franka Robotics, PickNik Robotics, READY Robotics, Solomon, Universal Robots and Yaskawa.

AMRs (autonomous mobile robotics are also getting some love, in the form of Perceptor. The program maintains Nvidia’s longstanding focus on vision processing for robotics. This is specifically targeted at “multi-camera, 3D surround-vision capabilities.” ArcBest, BYD and KION Group have already signed up.

The next several years will present a fascinating race for market share between humanoids and mobile manipulators, and Nvidia wants a piece of all of that action.

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