Tesla’s human robot prototype disappoints at AI Day 2022
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, debuted a prototype of the company’s Optimus humanoid robot today at the company’s “AI Day” press event. The robot emerged from behind a curtain, moved around, waved its hands, and “raised the roof” to the sound of techno music.
The prototype’s reveal was a daring move, given its wobbly appearance. On stage tonight, for example, was “Literally the first time the robot has operated without a tether was on stage tonight,” as Musk put it. Shortly after that, Tesla staff carried a more stylish Optimus model onto the stage, but it still needed to be supported by a stand because it could not stand on its own. It made a beckoning motion with its arms and raised its legs. Then, as Musk was talking, it sagged.
The company also showed a demonstration video showing a walking Optimus prototype picking up and placing down a box, watering a plant, and handling metal parts in a manufacturing setting; the total live robot presentation lasted around seven minutes. A 3D created version of the planet, depicting what the Optimus robot sees, was also included in the video.
The first time Tesla discussed creating a humanoid robot was at its AI Day presentation in August 2021. When a person performed at the last event while costumed as a robot in a spandex outfit, the press was skeptical.
To clarify, at today’s AI Event, Musk and his team underlined that the walking prototype was an early demo produced in around six months using “semi-off the shelf actuators,” and that the sleeker form far more closely matched the “Version 1” unit they hoped to ship. Within a few weeks, it should be able to walk, he said.
The Optimus project aims to achieve mass production, low cost (“millions of units sold,”), and excellent dependability. “probably less than $20,000” claimed Musk. Musk underlined that the Optimus robot should have the brains-on-board to work independently, comparing it to existing humanoid robots from competitors and referencing Tesla’s work with its car Autopilot system.
Shortly after, Musk ceded the stage to Tesla engineers, who provided high-level, jargon-filled overviews of how they were going to build the power systems, actuators, and joint mechanisms that would enable Optimus, complete with fancy graphs but few specifics about how any of that would translate to a finished product. One engineer stated, “We are carrying over most of our design experience from the car to the robot,” while another engineer stated that they took tremendous inspiration from human biology, particularly in joint design.
Prior to the presentation, Musk had stated that the purpose of the event was to “convince some of the most talented people in the world to come to Tesla and help bring this to fruition.” Musk has also often stressed Tesla’s public nature, saying that “If I go crazy, you can fire me,” he joked.