On Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the company’s robot, codenamed Tesla Bot, a robot codenamed Optimus that dances at low speed and flaps its arms as it shuffles around the stage. According to him, the robot can cost 20 thousand dollars in three to five years.
“Our goal is to create a useful humanoid robot as soon as possible,” Musk said. He said it could eventually “help millions of people,” but the first uses would be in Tesla’s car factories.
The robot was not as bright as some Boston Dynamics’ parkour-capable Atlas, but that’s what Tesla put together in less than eight months. “The robot can do a lot more than what we showed you. We just didn’t want it to fall on its face,” Musk quipped. Tesla AI Day 2022called an event designed to showcase the robot and the company’s autonomous vehicle technology Full Self-Driving or FSD.
Ultimately, Musk wants to create millions of Tesla Bots, taking advantage of the hardware, software, manufacturing and supply chain developed for the automotive business. However, take the company’s predictions with a grain of salt. Tesla has succeeded as an automaker, leading the rest of the industry toward an electric car future, but it has missed many deadlines along the way.
The Optimus effort, while still early days, is one of the most ambitious in the world of robotics, given how versatile and capable Tesla hopes the robots can be. But progress is hard. Opponents like it Boston Dynamics have been working on humanoid robots for years, but have only produced prototypes so far. Robots with more limited abilities are more common wheeled delivery bots gold Amazon’s Astroa tablet equipped with a home camera on wheels.
Artificial intelligence technology works best in narrow tasks, but Tesla’s self-driving technology and robots must take into account the great diversity of the real world. Optimus will likely lead a sheltered life. The company plans to use it first Tesla’s own factories.
Jobs could include moving parts to regular robots on a production line, Musk said.
“The number of situations where Optimus is useful will grow exponentially,” Musk said. “Really, really fast.”
Two Tesla Bots on stage
Musk showed two robots. The first, walking model is built with ready-made mechanical actuators, cylindrical devices connecting the motor with gears and sensors. The latter, whose limbs and fingers operated Tesla’s own actuators, was unable to walk and took to the stage on a wheel. But his gear allows him to hold it with his hands, leaving his foot out. In the video, the bots could do more, including picking up boxes, holding watering cans for plants, and turning around.
“He wasn’t quite ready to walk, but I think he’ll be walking in a couple of weeks,” Musk said of the second Optimus robot.
Tesla already had actuator engineers for their cars. The strongest actuator, the 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. One engineer said his battery pack had a capacity of 2.3 kilowatt-hours, “perfect for a full day’s work.” It consumes about 100 watts while sitting and 500 watts when walking fast. It’s something like a high-end gaming PC.
The first robot walked with one foot in front of the other at a slow, shuffling pace. His bent knees gave him a somewhat slender gait, but this posture is common for robots, as a straight-legged stance requires more precise balance. The robot was able to turn and bend at its waist. Its body was mostly decorated with green LEDs, and in its chest was a large computer with twin rotating fans to cool the processors.
Tesla engineers emphasized the degrees of freedom in the Optimus robots — essentially the different ways they can bend or twist in different combinations. Tesla said the full robot body has more than 28 degrees of freedom, and each arm has 11 degrees of freedom.
According to Musk, for safety reasons, the robots will have an external mechanism so that humans can stop them, and this override mechanism will not be able to be updated over the internet. In the longer term, for safety reasons, robots will likely “obey certain robotics laws that you can’t handle, like not harming others,” Musk said. The Three Laws of Robotics from science fiction author Isaac Asimov.
Tesla uses the same artificial intelligence software it uses in its cars to drive the Tesla Bot. Some of the same technology is applied, such as measuring the “occupancy” of nearby areas. Instead of driving videos, Tesla said it trains with real-world environments.
Musk didn’t hold back on his sci-fi promises for Tesla’s robots. With robots at work, the economy is entering a new era, “a future of abundance, a future without poverty, a future where you can have everything 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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