At Tesla’s AI Day 2022 presentation (opens in new tab), the company’s CEO Elon Musk unveiled prototype versions of the “Optimus” bipedal robot project. These were actual, mechanical demonstrations as opposed to the purely conceptual guy in a morph suit the company demonstrated at last year’s AI Day (opens in new tab).
The first bot shown was a “development platform” with visible circuitry and few cosmetic elements. It walked unsupported from backstage, waved to the crowd, “raised the roof,” and returned backstage.
The presentation next switched to a pre-recorded video of the prototype, now tethered to an overhead rail, performing simple tasks like picking up a box or a watering can. The video portion also included segments of “robot vision” depicting how the Optimus scans its environment.
Musk specified that the first model was built with “off-the-shelf” actuators, while the next model shown was constructed of Tesla-designed and manufactured parts. This robot was kept on a stand, from which it waved to the audience and kicked its legs.
Musk went on to elaborate that he believed Tesla’s edge over other robot manufacturers (like Boston Dynamics) would be the quality of its AI programming, derived from Tesla autopilot. As reported by Bloomberg (opens in new tab) (readers may encounter a paywall) and CBS (opens in new tab), Tesla is currently facing a lawsuit in Florida over the death of Jeremy Banner, whose Tesla crashed into a bottom of a tractor-trailer while on autopilot, peeling off the roof of the car like a convertible and killing Banner, then driving another 1600 feet before coming to a stop on a median.
Musk also indicated that Tesla would be able to manufacture Optimus robots at a greater scale than the competition, as well as a much lower cost. Musk estimated that the first retail Optimus robots would cost less than $20,000.
Musk then remarked that “the potential of Optimus is appreciated by very few people” as the demo model slumped over on its stand and had to be wheeled offstage. Musk mused on the definition of an economy, then posited that Optimus and projects like it had the potential to fully automate labor, ushering in a post-scarcity society. Musk also cautioned, however, that this technology was inherently very dangerous as well.
I am not especially worried at the moment though. If an Optimus robot came at me during the Great Uprising I would simply sweep its leg and go for a crushing “ground and pound” finish. I am more worried about that robot dog with a gun (opens in new tab), or if someone strapped a knife to a Roomba.
Jokes aside, the freestanding locomotion demo was impressive, especially given the relatively short turnaround since the initiative’s announcement last year. I do appreciate technological innovation like this in a vacuum. We will have to see how Musk’s claims about unit cost, volume, and the transformation of our economy pan out. I just know that my beloved Chicago never did get that high speed underground transit loop (opens in new tab) linking downtown to O’Hare airport.