Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled a humanoid “Optimus” robot prototype that shares some AI software and sensors with the Autopilot driver assistance features found in Tesla vehicles. Musk acknowledged that they had “a guy in a suit” last year but promised something much more impressive at the start of Tesla’s 2022 AI Day presentation.
This prototype, according to Musk, can do more than what was demonstrated live, but “the first time it operated without a tether on stage.” Musk predicted a price of “probably less than $20,000” and later explained in a Q&A session that Tesla is very good at building the AI and actuators required for robotics based on its experience producing drive units for electric cars. Musk stated that this would assist it in getting capable robots into production and would begin by testing them within its factories.
He claimed that the distinction between Tesla’s design and other “very impressive humanoid robot demonstrations” is that Tesla’s Optimus is designed for mass production in “millions” of units and is extremely capable. A team of workers moved a non-walking prototype offstage behind him as he said this.
Initially, the stage’s back doors opened to reveal a deconstructed Optimus called “Bumble C” who walked forward and did a “raise the roof” dance move. Musk admitted that they wanted to keep it safe and avoid having it “fall flat on its face” on stage.
Following that, the company showed a few video clips of the robot performing other tasks, such as picking up boxes.
The Tesla team then displayed another prototype of Optimus with its body fully assembled but not fully functional — it was held up on a stand and waved to the audience, demonstrating the range of motion of its wrist and hand. This unit (which was walked out and eventually rolled off by a team of workers) still has actuators, a battery pack, and everything else but “wasn’t quite ready to walk,” according to Musk.
They revealed that the first robot presented was created in the last six months. They hope to “get this done within the next few months… or years” after discussing the challenges they will face in moving from the prototype to a working design.
It comes with a 2.3kWh battery pack, a Tesla SoC, and Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity. Demonstrations focusing on the robot’s joints, such as its hands, wrists, or knees, demonstrated how they processed data for each joint, then looked for common areas in each design to find a method using only six different actuators. Engineers say the human-like hands are a “Biologically Inspired Design” that will allow them to pick up objects of various shapes and sizes, hold a 20-point bag, and have a “precision grip” on small parts.
The Autopilot software from Tesla’s cars was transferred to the bot and retooled to work in the new body and environment. Tesla Motion captured people performing real-world tasks such as lifting a box and then repeated the movements with Optimus using inverse kinematics. Then “online motion adaptation” is used to make these tasks less rigid and able to be manipulated to account for an unstructured environment.
“It’ll be a fundamental shift for civilization as we know it,” Musk predicted. He goes on to say that Optimus has the potential to improve economic output by “two orders of magnitude.” Musk first announced the “Tesla Bot” at last year’s AI Day, promising that it would be “friendly” and could revolutionize the company’s assembly line and manufacturing operations.