Tesla on Friday revealed a prototype of a humanoid robot that it says could be a future product for the automaker.
The robot, named Optimus by Tesla, walked stiffly on stage at Tesla’s AI Day, slowly waving to the madmen and gesticulating with its hands for about a minute. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the robot operated without a tether for the first time. Robotics developers often use tethers to support robots because they are unable to walk without falling and injuring themselves.
Optimus’ capabilities appear to be considerably behind what robots from competitors such as Hyundai-owned Boston Dynamics are capable of. Boston Dynamics robots have been seen doing back-flips and performing sophisticated dance routines without tethers.
“The robot can actually do a lot more than what we just showed you,” Musk said at the event. “We just didn’t want it to fall flat on its face.”
Tesla also showed videos of the robot performing simple tasks such as carrying boxes and watering plants with a watering can.
Musk claimed that if the robot was mass-produced, it would “probably” cost less than $20,000. Tesla maintains that advantage to Optimus over the competition will be its ability to navigate independently using technology developed from Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” driver assistance system, as well as cost savings from what it has learned about manufacturing from the auto division. (Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” requires a human being alert and aware, ready to take over at any moment, as it is not yet capable of fully driving itself.)
Tesla has a history of aggressive price targets that it ultimately fails to meet. The Tesla Model 3 was long promised as a $35,000 vehicle, but could only be purchased for that price quite briefly, and not directly on the website. The most affordable Tesla Model 3 now costs $46,990. When Tesla revealed the Cybertruck in 2019, the pickup that remains unavailable for purchase today, it was said to cost $39,990, but the price has since been removed from Tesla’s website.
Tesla AI Day is largely intended as a recruitment event to attract talented people to join the company.
Musk claimed that the robot could be transformative for civilization. The robot shown Friday, despite its limitations compared to competitors, was significantly ahead of what Tesla revealed a year ago, when a person jumped on stage in a robot suit and danced around.
“‘Last year there was only one person in a robot suit,'” Musk said before the robot took the stage. “We have come a long way. Compared to that, it’s going to be very impressive.”
Tesla is not the first car manufacturer to develop a humanoid robot. Together with Hyundai’s Boston Dynamics, Honda worked on robots called “Asimo” for almost 20 years. In his final form, Asimo was a child-sized humanoid robot capable of walking, running, climbing and descending stairs, and manipulating objects with his fingers.