"AI-powered humanoid robots
are essential to reinventing work and supporting human workers."

Joe Lui, Accenture
Advanced Automation and Robotics

Is this the rise of humanoid robots?
What does Accenture want from Sanctuary AI? Probably to steer a smart humanoid robot with great hands to its customers, who, no doubt, have been badgering Accenture for a while now about when artificial intelligence (AI) will impact their businesses.

Accenture, the Dublin-based mega-giant of professional services ($64 billion in revenue for 2023), with a huge slice of the Fortune 500 as clients, has been cruising for AI connections worldwide. Illustrative of that quest is Accenture Alpha Automation 2024 (jointly owned by Accenture and Mujin Robotics). An article from AIThority states the plan’s focus:  Accenture and Mujin Establish Joint Venture to Bring AI and Robotics to the Manufacturing and Logistics Industries. The Accenture/Sanctuary AI hookup could well be to accomplish the very same aims.

For Accenture’s initiative for what it calls Industry X, its promotional literature says things like “Reimagine the products you make and how you make them” in combination with Accenture’s powerful digital capabilities with deep engineering, manufacturing, and infrastructure and capital projects expertise. With generativeAI in the process of changing just about everything, it would behoove Accenture to have a few AI solutions in its toolbox.

Enter, Sanctuary’s humanoid robot Phoenix, recognized as one of TIME’s “Best Inventions of 2023” and the object of Accenture’s affection. As Sanctuary enthuses: “The world’s first humanoid general-purpose robot powered by Carbon, our pioneering AI control system, and designed for work.”

Joe Lui, Accenture’s global advanced automation and robotics lead, says of humanoids: “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.”

Lui also adds: “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.” That list involves just about half of all global industries; so yes, it would seem that humanoids are very important to Accenture and its clients.

Tom Lounibos, global managing director of Accenture Ventures, says Accenture is responding to what he calls Accenture’s “Book of Secrets,” or “its list of top customer challenges and Accenture’s deep knowledge about those challenges.”

To meet those challenges, Accenture unveiled Project Spotlight (2020), “touting it as a way to invest in emerging technology startups that takes advantage of the company’s experience in dealing with customer challenges to find potential investees and help them grow.”

On March 27, 2024, Accenture announced “that it has made a strategic investment in Sanctuary AI through Accenture Ventures. Sanctuary AI specializes in developing AI-driven humanoid robots designed for general-purpose tasks.”

As for Phoenix, it’s kind of a revelation in the humanoid biz, writes New Atlas: “Sanctuary’s Phoenix bot, with “the world’s best robot hands,” works totally autonomously at near-human speeds – much faster than Tesla’s or Figure’s robots.”

However, the Sanctuary team hasn’t got it up and walking yet, deciding to let others figure that bit out so its team can focus on the nitty-gritty of work behaviors. Thus, it sits on a decidedly unsexy wheeled platform, but it has some of the most finely-tuned and human-like hands out of anything we’ve ever seen.”

So, there it stands (on wheels) as a 5-foot, 7-inch general-purpose humanoid robot powered by an AI system called Carbon. “The economic opportunity here, in terms of being able to both provide the labor that people want and being able to profit from it by developing a technology like this, is an opportunity unlike any that I think has ever existed,” says Geordie Rose, Sanctuary’s CEO and co-founder. “It’s way bigger than the steam engine, for example.”

Steam engine!? Hmmmm. The steam engine and its steam industry are considered the most powerful ideas to come out of the Industrial Revolution.

More than money, what Sanctuary might well need from Accenture is access to its massive Fortune 500 customer base. Probably near a trillion-dollar gold mine for both Accenture and Sanctuary AI to mine together may await.

Since 2019, when Sanctuary’s revenue was $1.4 million, the startup has rocketed to $31.8 million (2023), which is a 269% increase. In short, money does not appear to be a problem. However, scaling the robot will be expensive. But just maybe more than a few of Accenture’s clients badly in need of increased productivity, or to reduce head counts, or to make stockholders grin broadly, might pre-order Phoenix by the tens of thousands…even if it’s still on wheels.

When that happens will be a good time to revisit Rose’s comparison to steam engines.