Altman vs. Musk: OpenAI treads on Tesla’s robot turf with investment in Norway’s 1X

·2 min read

OpenAI cofounders Sam Altman and Elon Musk have been increasingly sniping at one other, and—as noted in Friday’s Data Sheet—their mutual animosity goes back a while. According to a fascinating Semafor report last week, Musk tried to take over OpenAI several years ago, only to be rebuffed. The rest is history: Musk and his money walked away, and OpenAI soon succumbed to Microsoft’s $1 billion (now circa $13 billion) embrace in order to pay for all that expensive data-crunching.

Well, here’s a new thing for Musk and Altman to feud over: Late last week, the Norwegian robotics company 1X (until recently known as Halodi) announced the closure of a Series A2 funding round worth $23.5 million, with the lead investor being none other than the Microsoft-backed OpenAI Startup Fund.

1X makes a wheeled, humanoid robot called EVE—which was originally designed for research use, before being repurposed as a security bot—and is preparing to unveil a bipedal android called NEO. The new funding will support NEO’s development, as well as the “scale manufacturing” of EVE in Norway and North America, where security giant ADT already has plans to deploy it for night-patrol purposes.

The fund’s first foray into robotics will potentially take OpenAI into indirect competition with Musk’s Tesla, which has since mid-2021 been promising to launch a bipedal, humanoid robot called the Tesla Bot or Optimus—I say “potentially” because one always has to wonder with Musk’s many promises. Musk’s bot is supposedly designed to perform repetitive manual tasks in factories and other workplaces. Meanwhile, 1X’s technology is already out there.

Here’s OpenAI Startup Fund chief Brad Lightcap: “1X is at the forefront of augmenting labor through the use of safe, advanced technologies in robotics. The OpenAI Startup Fund believes in the approach and impact that 1X can have on the future of work.” Arne Tonning, a partner at Alliance Venture, one of the Norwegian VC firms that joined the round, wrote that in addition to EVE’s security assignment, “1X is exploring opportunities and applications within retail, logistics and health care with leading customers and partners.”

Eric Jang, 1X’s vice president of A.I., recently compared his company’s work to OpenAI’s, tweeting: “Much like how OpenAI is building digital information manipulation systems (e.g. ChatGPT) by losslessly compressing Internet data, we are building a general-purpose A.I. for manipulating physical information (atoms).”

Bringing the two together must be very exciting—unless you’re Elon Musk, in which case it must be annoying as heck. As 1X communications manager Hege Nikolaisen told me today, 1X and Tesla are starting in different markets but will likely clash down the line. “There’s no explicit rivalry right now,” she said, “but there will be as we approach our long-term goals."

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David Meyer

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman.

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