Tesla CEO Elon Musk started his Tesla AI Day 2022 with a fast-paced level of expectations — “we’ve come a long way” — then stepped aside to let the first iteration of his robot walk onto the stage.
The robot was not a human dressed in a robot costume like last year. Instead, at its second annual event, Tesla introduced a functioning robot, albeit with exposed cables and a little wobbly. According to Musk, it was the first time it worked without “support, cranes, mechanical mechanisms or cables”.
After a brief spin across the stage, the robot left the stage before the rest of the presentation continued, including several short videos of the robot (now pinned for stability) carrying a box into an office, watering a plant, and lifts metal at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California.
The purpose of the demo and subsequent presentation, in which a number of Tesla employees gave a course of what can only be described as a bipedal robotics 101 course, was to show more progress. (After all, anything beyond a human in a costume can be considered progress). Instead, the event was intended to telegraph where Tesla is headed, bolster confidence in its trajectory, and (hopefully) recruit the talent it needs to move the program forward.
Ultimately, Musk said the first-generation prototype, which he called Bumble C, will evolve into Optimus. This eventual robot will be able to walk and balance efficiently, carry a 20-pound bag, use tools and have a precise grip for small robots. The Bumble C prototype is equipped with a 2.3-kilowatt-hour battery pack, which a Tesla employee said was “perfect for about a full day’s work.”
Tesla did show off a second bot, which did not have the same functionality as the Bumble C, but had a more streamlined appearance. This bot, who could not walk, was brought on stage by the staff.
Some specifications of the robot have changed since last year. For example, the weight of the bot has increased from 125 pounds to 160 pounds.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the Tesla bot roadshow was the repeated reference and crossover with Tesla vehicles – and in particular the Autopilot strategy.
The company said it uses its energy products and uses those components for the bot, including battery management. The supercomputer used in Tesla vehicles is also located in the Tesla bot. And Tesla is also leveraging the hardware and software used in its advanced driver assistance system Autopilot for the bot. The Tesla bot is also equipped with: wireless connectivity, audio support and hardware-level security features, which the company says are “important to protect both the robot and the people around the robot.”
The big looming question is whether all these efficiencies, once combined in the bot, will result in a scalable robot that works. Musk, of course, thinks it’s possible, going so far as to say that he envisions the Optimus only costing $20,000.
Towards the end of the nearly three-hour program, Musk said the Tesla bot would start small.
“We’re going to start Optimist with very simple factory testing,” Musk said. “You know, maybe you’re just loading a part like you saw on the video.”
He later added, “Right now we just want to make the basic humanoid work properly, and our goal is the fastest path to a usable humanoid robot.”