Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Friday unveiled the company’s Tesla Bot, a robot codenamed Optimus that shuffled across a stage, waving and pumping its arms in a low-speed dance move. The robot could cost $20,000 within three to five years, Musk said.
“Our goal is to create a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said. It could eventually “help millions of people,”[ads1]; but the first use will be in Tesla’s car factories, he said.
The robot was not as flashy as some others, 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 joked an event designed to showcase the robot and the company’s autonomous vehicle technology, called .
Ultimately, Musk wants to build Tesla Bots by the millions, taking advantage of hardware, software, manufacturing and supply chain advantages developed for his auto business. However, take the company’s estimates with a shakerful of salt. Tesla has succeeded as an automaker, leading the rest of the industry toward an electric vehicle future, but it has missed many deadlines along the way.
Although the Optimus effort is still early days, it is among the most ambitious in the robotics world given how widespread and capable Tesla hopes the robots can become. But progress is difficult. Rivals likehas been working for years with humanoid robots, but has so far only produced prototypes. More common are robots with more limited capabilities, such as or a tablet equipped with a household camera on wheels.
Artificial intelligence technology works best with narrow jobs, but Tesla’s car pilot technology and robots have to account for enormous variation in the real world. Optimus will likely live a sheltered life to boot. The company plans to use it first.
Jobs could include carrying parts for conventional robots on the 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 was built with off-the-shelf mechanical actuators, cylindrical units that combine a motor with gears and sensors. The other, whose limbs and fingers were controlled by Tesla’s own actuators, could not walk and was wheeled onto the stage. But the actuators allow it to lift its leg out to the side and grasp with its hands. In a video, the robots could do more, including picking up boxes, holding a watering can for plants and turning at the waist.
“It wasn’t quite ready to go, but I think it will go 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 kilograms). It uses a variant of the same computer hardware that powers Tesla’s FSD autonomous vehicle technology. The battery pack has a capacity of 2.3 kilowatt hours, “perfect for a full day’s work,” said one engineer. It uses about 100 watts when sitting and 500 watts when going fast. It’s something like a high-end gaming PC.
The first robot walked at a slow, shuffling pace, with one foot placed directly in front of the other. The bent knees gave it a somewhat crunching gait, but that stance is common for robots since a straight leg position requires much more precise balance skills. The robot was able to turn and bend at the waist. The body was studded with mostly green LEDs, and the chest contained a large computer with dual rotating fans to cool the processors.
Tesla engineers emphasized the degrees of freedom in the Optimus robots — essentially the different ways it can bend or twist at different joints. The entire robot body has more than 28 degrees of freedom, and each hand has 11, Tesla said.
For safety reasons, the robots will include an external mechanism for people to stop them, Musk said, and that override mechanism will not be able to be updated over the Internet. In the longer term, for safety reasons, the robots will likely be “governed by some laws of robotics that you can’t overcome, like don’t hurt others,” Musk said, a reference to the three laws of robotics from 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’s just trained with real environments instead of running video, Tesla said.
Musk didn’t hold back on the sci-fi promises for Tesla’s robots. With robots at work, the economy is entering a new age, a “future of abundance, a future where there is no poverty, a future where you can get whatever you want in products and services,” Musk said. “It really is a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”