Elon Musk, the eccentric CEO of Tesla, finally revealed a prototype of his company’s humanoid robot called Optimus. Last year, Musk gave the first glimpse of his vision for a humanoid robot and said the robot would be called Optimus.
At the start of Tesla’s 2022 AI Day, Musk confirmed that the presentation last year did not include a real robot but instead relied on a person wearing a spandex suit. This year, the world’s richest man not only showed a real working humanoid robot but also explained that the robot shares some of its AI software and sensors with those powering the Autopilot feature on Tesla’s road cars.
$20,000 price tag
The biggest revelation about Optimus came in the form of its price. At Tesla’s 2022 AI Day presentation, Musk predicted that the humanoid robot could hit a price of “probably less than $20,000.”
During a Q&A, Musk expressed his confidence in hitting that price tag by emphasising on his company’s experience producing drive units for electric cars. The Tesla CEO also mentioned that his company has gained expertise in building AI and the actuators necessary for robotics.
With all that synergy between Optimus and Tesla’s road cars, Musk plans to produce some robots and start off by testing them within its factories. He also claimed that Optimus is designed for mass production in the “millions” of units.
When the idea of a $35,000 electric car seemed impossible, Musk and Tesla made it possible with Model 3. There is a good chance that Musk will accomplish the goal of building a humanoid robot priced less than $20,000. However, the presentation was not without flaws.
During the presentation, a team of workers were seen moving a non-walking prototype offstage behind Musk. However, Musk did claim that the prototype being shown at the 2022 AI Day event was closer to production and Tesla does seem to have made progress since the time it was first introduced last year.
What can Optimus do?
This is one of the questions that does not have a direct answer just yet. However, Tesla and Musk did showcase the capabilities of Optimus. The 2022 AI Day reveal of Optimus began with Tesla showing a deconstructed version of Optimus called “Bumble C”.
This deconstructed version was able to walk forward and do the “raise the roof” dance move. The company later showed videos of Optimus doing activities like picking up boxes. In every way, Tesla and Musk played it safe when it comes to demonstrating a range of actions possible for Optimus.
After the sledgehammer failure of Cybertruck, one cannot blame Musk for being cautious with product demos. The prototype, claimed to be “very close to production”, waved to the audience. It was a well-coordinated attempt to showcase the range of motions possible for Optimus with its wrist and hand.
It may not seem like a lot, but Optimus is mainly meant to showcase the advancement in the field of robotics. With Tesla focussing on building Gigafactories around the world, it not only needs robots but seems poised to build its own.
What is Optimus made of?
At the presentation, Musk revealed that the Optimus contains a 2.3kWh battery and runs on a Tesla SoC. For connectivity, the humanoid robot includes support for WiFi and LTE. The prototype showcased by Tesla and Musk as “very close to production” also contained actuators and everything else needed for it to walk or perform any other action.
The company claimed that the robot presented by them initially was developed in just the past six months, according to The Verge. In terms of design, Musk acknowledged that they are still a few months or years away from making Optimus a fully functional humanoid robot.
For now, Tesla Optimus is meant to showcase its joints and focus on how its hands, wrists, or knees move. Tesla also showcased how the robot processes data for each joint and the hands, in particular, is claimed to have a “Biologically Inspired Design” that will allow for the robot to pick up boxes the way humans do.
The software powering the robot is based on the Autopilot software found on Tesla’s road cars. The software is retooled by Tesla for the design and environment. For training, Tesla motion captured people doing real-world tasks and then used reverse kinematics to repeat the tasks with Optimus.
Most important product development
Elon Musk has repeatedly said that this humanoid robot is “the most important product development we’re doing this year.” He even predicted that the robotics division will become “more significant than the vehicle business over time.”
Musk imagines robots becoming capable of cooking, gardening, and other activities. During a TED Talk in April, he even mentioned robots becoming romantic partners for humans in the future. All these claims come at a time when Musk and Tesla are only saying that the production could begin as soon as next year.
It is not clear whether Musk’s humanoid robot, called Optimus, will clearly make it past Tesla’s factories. Despite his antics on Twitter, Musk is known for his lucid promises online but also delivering on those claims. With Optimus, Musk could not only meet the demand for robotics but improve Tesla’s efficiency in the process.