A prototype of a humanoid “Optimus” robot was revealed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. It shares some AI software and sensors with its automobiles’ Autopilot driver assistance features.
At the onset of Tesla’s 2022 AI Day exposition, Musk conceded that they had “a guy in a suit” the previous year but vowed something much more fantastic.
The prototype can do more than what was revealed live, but “the first time it operated without a tether was tonight on stage.” Musk foreshadowed it could hit a price of “probably less than $20,000” and later, in a Q&A session, explained that Tesla is very good at building the AI and the actuators necessary for robotics based on the experience of producing drive units for electric cars.
Musk said that would help it get capable robots into production and start testing them within its factories. The difference between Tesla’s design and other “awe-inspiring humanoid robot demonstrations” is that Tesla’s Optimus is made for mass production in the “millions” of units and to be very capable.
Tesla’s robot prototype is shown striding unsteadily on stage, with many exposed wires and cables.
The back doors of the stage opened to reveal a deconstructed Optimus that Tesla calls “Bumble C” that walked forward and did a “raise the roof” dance move. Musk admitted that they wanted to keep it safe, not make too many moves on stage, and hold it “fall flat on its face.”
Afterward, the company revealed a few video clips of the robot doing other assignments like picking up boxes.
Tesla’s team carried out another prototype showing a “very close to production” version of Optimus with its body entirely created but not fully functional — it was held up on a stand and waved to the audience, showing the range of motion of its wrist and hand. Musk claimed this unit still comprises battery packs, actuators, and everything else but “wasn’t quite ready to walk.”
The initial robot presented was developed in just the past six months. Discussing hurdles they have to address in bringing it from the prototype to a working configuration, they hope to “get this done within the next few months… or years.”
It contains a 2.3kWh battery pack, runs on a Tesla SoC, and has Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity. Demonstrations concentrated on handling the robot’s joints, like its hands, wrists, or knees, revealed how they processed data for each joint.
They then looked for the typical scopes in each design to find a method using only six different actuators. The human-like hands are a “Biologically Inspired Design” that engineers say will make 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 driven from its cars to the bot and retooled to work in the new body and environment. First, Tesla motion seized people doing real-world tasks like lifting a box and then utilizing inverse kinematics, repeating the movements using Optimus. Then “online motion adaptation” is devoted to making it so these tasks aren’t so rigid and can be manipulated to take into account an unstructured environment.
“It’ll be a fundamental transformation for civilization as we know it,” expressed Musk. However, he persisted in stating that Optimus has the possibility of “two orders of magnitude” of potential progress of economic output.
Musk had cautioned his fans not to expect the prototype to look like the glossy black-and-white rendering first revealed at last year’s event. But there’s been no shortage of hype, with Musk calling the robot “the most important product development we’re doing this year” and predicting that it will have the possibility to be “more significant than the vehicle business over time.”
Tesla’s past is littered with fanciful concepts that never came out — like a solar-powered Supercharger network, battery swapping, or robotic snake-style chargers — so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether a production-ready Tesla Bot will ever see the light of day.
But the organization is where it is today because of Musk’s sheer will. And the reveal of a prototype rendition of the robot is sure to bolster Musk’s claims of Tesla as “the world’s biggest robotics company.”