Industrial Design Firm Merphi Explains Challenges of Humanoid Robot Design

The development of humanoid robots has ramped up sharply; in the past six months, we’ve seen a half-dozen different designs. Aesthetically speaking, they’re all over the place. These two seem designed by engineers just trying to get the thing to work:

Left to right: Tesla Optimus, Unitree H-1

Whereas these clearly involved industrial designers tasked with imbuing an aesthetic:

Left to right: Apptronik Apollo, Fourier Intelligence GR-1, Figure, Sanctuary AI Phoenix

Often these industrial designers remain anonymous, but we’ve learned that the ID firm behind the Phoenix design is Sweden-based Merphi. They did everything on the ‘bot from the concept sketches to the finished product, including the CMF and DFM (Design for Manufacturing).

In Merphi’s words:


Humanoid robots are highly complex with a physical design that needs to follow specific hardware requirements. The industrial design of a humanoid robot must meet this challenge while also taking into account the preferences of the people who will interact with it. In order to turn the concept into reality, the first challenge was to effectively collaborate with…technical and executive teams.

The second challenge was to create a humanoid robot that looks endearing and competent, while also displaying mechanical prowess and an AI control system.


The design team at MERPHI was tasked with conceptualizing the appearance of Phoenix™ robots and working with the Sanctuary AI team to develop it into a usable final product. The design needed to communicate the physical functionality and AI capabilities of the technology in an approachable way.

[By being mindful of] psychological concepts like [the] Uncanny Valley, we were able to create a look that portrayed intelligence and capability, while also being friendly looking.

Design aesthetics are of course subjective; I think that the Phoenix ‘bot looks cool, and has aesthetically pleasing CMF, but I don’t think I’d call it “friendly looking.” I think that battle will be won by designers of non-humanoid robots like the Ascento.

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