Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Friday unveiled the company’s Tesla Bot, a robot codenamed Optimus that crawled across a stage, waved and waved its arms in a slow-speed dance move. The robot could cost $20,000 in three to five years, he said.
“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said. It could eventually “help millions of people,” but the first uses will be in Tesla’s car factories, he said.
The robot was not as flashy as others, like Boston Dynamics Parkour-Capable Atlas, but it is what Tesla put together in less than eight months. “The robot can do so much more than what we’re showing you. We just didn’t want it to fall flat on its face,” Musk joked. Tesla AI Day 2022an event designed to showcase the company’s robot and autonomous vehicle technology, called Full self-driving or FSD.
Ultimately, Musk wants to build millions of Tesla Bots, leveraging the hardware, software, manufacturing, and supply chain advantages developed for his car business. However, he does take the company’s projections with a grain of salt. Tesla has been successful as a carmaker, leading the rest of the industry toward a future electric vehicle, but has missed many deadlines along the way.
Optimus’ effort, while still early days, is among the most ambitious in the world of robotics given how widespread and capable Tesla hopes robots can become. But progress is difficult. Rivals like boston dynamics have worked for years on humanoid robots, but have so far only produced prototypes. More common are robots with more limited abilities, such as wheeled delivery robots either Amazon Stara camera-equipped home tablet on wheels.
AI technology works best with limited jobs, but Tesla’s car-driving technology and robots must have immense real-world variety. Optimus likely leads a sheltered life to begin with. The company plans to use it first in Tesla’s own factories.
The jobs could include transporting parts to conventional robots on the manufacturing line, Musk said.
“The number of situations where Optimus is useful is going to grow exponentially,” Musk said. “Very very fast”.
Two Tesla Bots on stage
Musk showed two robots. The first walking model was built with standard mechanical actuators, cylindrical devices that combine a motor with gears and sensors. The second, whose limbs and fingers were controlled by Tesla’s own actuators, was unable to walk and was carried onstage. But his actuators allowed him to swing his leg to the side and grab it with his hands. In one video, the bots could do more, such as pick up boxes, hold a watering can for plants, and turn at the waist.
“He wasn’t quite ready to walk, but I think he will walk in a few weeks,” Musk said of the second Optimus robot.
Tesla already had actuator engineers on staff for its vehicles. The strongest actuator, a linear model used in the Optimus leg, can lift 1,000 pounds.
The second Optimus prototype weighs 161 pounds (73 kg). It uses a variation of the same computing hardware that powers Tesla’s FSD autonomous vehicle technology. Its battery pack has a capacity of 2.3 kilowatt hours, “perfect for a full day of work,” said an engineer. It consumes about 100 watts of power sitting down and 500 watts when walking briskly. That’s kind of like a high-end gaming PC.
The first robot walked at a slow, shuffling pace, one foot placed just in front of the other. His bent knees gave him a somewhat clipped gait, but such a stance is common for robots, as a straight-legged stance requires much more precise balance skills. The robot could twist and flex at the waist. His body was studded with mostly green LEDs, and his chest featured a large computer with two spinning fans to cool the processors.
Tesla engineers emphasized the degrees of freedom in the Optimus robots, essentially the different ways they can be bent or twisted at different joints. The entire robot body has more than 28 degrees of freedom, and each hand has 11, Tesla said.
For security reasons, the bots will include an external mechanism for people to stop them, Musk said, and that override mechanism won’t be updateable over the Internet. In the long run, for safety reasons, robots are likely to “go by some laws of robotics that cannot be broken, such as not doing harm to others,” Musk said, referring to the three laws of robotics by science fiction author Isaac Asimov.
Tesla uses the same AI software to control the Tesla Bot that it uses in its cars. Some of the same technology applies, such as measuring the “occupancy” of nearby areas. It is only trained with real-world environments rather than driving videos, Tesla said.
Musk didn’t hold back on sci-fi promises for Tesla’s robots. With robots at work, the economy is entering a new era, a “future of abundance, a future where there is no poverty, a future where you can have whatever you want in terms of products and services,” Musk said. “It really is a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”
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