Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed a prototype humanoid “Optimus” robot that shares some AI software and sensors with its cars’ Autopilot driver assistance features. At the start of Tesla’s 2022 AI Day presentation, Musk acknowledged that they had “a man in a suit” last year, but today promised something much more impressive.
According to Musk, this prototype can do more than what was shown live, but “the first time it worked without a chain was on stage tonight.” Musk predicted it could hit a price of “probably less than $20,000” and later explained, in a Q&A session, that Tesla is very good at building the AI and actuators needed for robotics based of the experience in producing power units for electric cars. Musk said it would help get capable robots into production and begin testing them in his factories.
He claimed that the difference between Tesla’s design and other “very impressive humanoid robot demonstrations” is that Tesla’s Optimus was made for mass production in the “millions” of units and is very capable. As he said that, a team of workers moved a non-running prototype from the podium behind him.
Initially, the back doors of the stage opened to reveal a deconstructed Optimus that Tesla calls “Bumble C”, who walked forward and did a “lift the roof” dance move. Musk admitted they wanted to keep it safe, not make too many moves on stage, and “drop it flat on his face.” (It’s best to avoid another Cybertruck sledgehammer incident if you can.)
After that, the company showed a few video clips of the robot doing other tasks, such as picking up boxes.
Then Tesla’s team released another prototype featuring a “very close to production” version of Optimus with its body fully assembled but not fully functional – it was held on a stand and waved at the audience, limiting the range of motion of its wrist and hand. Musk claimed that this unit (which was run away and eventually rolled away by a team of workers) still contains actuators, a battery pack and everything else, but “wasn’t quite ready to run”.
They revealed that the first robot presented has been developed in just the past six months. As they discuss the hurdles to overcome to get it from prototype to working design, they hope to “get this done within the next few months…or years.”
Engineers hope to clear additional design hurdles “within the next few months…or years.”
It includes a 2.3 kWh battery pack, runs on a Tesla SoC, and has Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity. Demonstrations focused on addressing the robot’s joints, such as its hands, wrists or knees, showed how they processed data for each joint and then searched the common areas in each design to find a method using just six different actuators . The human-like hands are a “biologically inspired design” that engineers say makes them more suitable for picking up objects of various shapes and sizes, holding a 20-point bag and having a “precision grip” on small parts.
Tesla’s Autopilot software was moved from the cars to the bot and redesigned to work in the new body and environment. Tesla movement captured people doing real-world tasks like lifting a box and then using inverse kinematics, repeating the movements using Optimus. Then ‘online motion adaptation’ is applied to ensure that these tasks are not so rigid and can be manipulated to account for an unstructured environment.
“It will be a fundamental transformation for civilization as we know it,” Musk said. He continues to say that Optimus has the potential of “two orders of magnitude” of potential improvement in economic output.
Musk first announced the “Tesla Bot” on last year’s AI Day, promising it would be “friendly” and potentially revolutionize the company’s assembly line and manufacturing operations.
Musk had warned his fans not to expect the prototype to look like the glossy black-and-white rendering first shown at last year’s event. But there’s no shortage of hype, with Musk calling the robot “the most important product development we’re doing this year” and predicting that it will “be more important than the auto trade” over time.
Future uses could be cooking, gardening, or even “catgirl” sex partners; Musk has said while claiming production could begin as early as next year.
In the days leading up to AI Day, robotics experts warned against over-emphasizing Musk’s claims. They’ve noted that other companies are much further along in developing robots that can walk, run, and even jump — but none claim to replace human labor.
Tesla’s history is littered with fanciful ideas that never materialized — like a solar powered supercharger network, change batteryor snake style robotic chargers — so it’s anyone’s guess whether a production-ready Tesla Bot will ever see the light of day. But the company is where it is today because of Musk’s sheer will. And the unveiling of a prototype version of the robot is sure to bolster Musk’s claims of Tesla as “the world’s largest robotics company.”
Update October 1, 12:40 PM ET: Edited presentation video, promo photos of the “TeslaBot” and added a few more details.