Optimus, Tesla’s First Humanoid Robot, is Far From Prime
Humans will soon have another two-legged companion to do their daily chores or grab a beer with, according to Tesla head honcho – Elon Musk. The eccentric tech billionaire took to the Tesla AI day event over the weekend to show off Optimus, an actual working humanoid robot prototype, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. While it wasn’t the complete misfire that the original Cybertruck announcement was, the Optimus unveiling left fans feeling pretty secure that the reboot uprising isn’t coming any time soon. The internet was quick to point out that the clunky bot came off looking more like a goofy animatronic than a full-scale assistant. Nice try, Musk.
Artificial intelligence has always been considered somewhat of a gift and a curse to society, with many, including Musk, being of the opinion that it could pose a real existential threat to human civilisation as we know it. AI is still in its nascent stages and Musk is supposedly leading the charge with the newly unveiled humanoid robot dubbed Optimus.
At the Tesla AI day event, we finally learned some interesting things about our new robot friend and its capabilities. Two different humanoid robot prototypes were shown off to the public, each having its own unique traits. The event kicked off with a reveal of a deconstructed Optimus that the company has named “Bumble C.” It strolled forward and performed a “raise the roof” dance move. The test unit walked slowly across the stage untethered and without any human help.
Following this, the company even showed a fully assembled prototype which happens to be a “very close to production” version of Optimus, but, it couldn’t walk and was brought on stage by the team. The robot did wave to the crowd and was kept up using a stand. Tesla CEO said that this version includes all the actuators, battery pack, and all the other essential stuff but “wasn’t quite ready to walk.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and prove it,” Musk said. From what we have seen so far, this Telsa bot seems pretty basic and is mostly meant for repetitive and tedious tasks, thus helping humans to focus on other important chores and reducing manual labour. Telsa aims to mass produce these and sell them for under USD$20,000 or AUD$31,000 in the next three to five years.
The Optimus will come fitted with a 2.3 kWh battery pack that condenses several different power control systems into a single PCB, a chip system, and actuators to help drive its arms. The company’s engineering team claims that the battery pack will provide the Tesla bot with enough juice to help it last a full day of work. Connectivity is also something that has been taken care of and Optimus will have both Wi-Fi and LTE capabilities. This will make it easy for Tesla to push updates over the air and improve Optimus’ performance over a given period of time, a feature that is already present in their electric cars.
The presentation also included a video of the robot performing humble chores like watering plants, carrying boxes, and lifting metal bars at a production station at Tesla’s California factory. Tesla even mentioned that Optimus will have 28 structural actuators to help its body achieve more than 200 degrees of freedom, while the hands will have 11 degrees of freedom, thus enabling the humanoid robot to mimic the movements of a human being.
“We want to leverage both the autopilot hardware and the software for the humanoid platform, but because it’s different in requirements and inform factor,” Lizzie Miskovetz, a Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at Tesla, and a member of the engineering team explained. “It’s going to do everything that a human brain does: processing vision data, making split-second decisions based on multiple sensory inputs and also communications,” with the help of the embedded Wi-Fi and cellular radios.
Musk has never shied away from expressing his views and has on several occasions advocated for “a future of abundance,” where robots do most of the hard work, allowing humans to focus on more important things.”It really is a fundamental transformation of civilisation as we know it,” said Musk during the recent event. The Tesla chief desires to crack one of the toughest problems in artificial intelligence, which is, how to create a machine that can substitute a human being.
It seems like we’re now getting somewhat close to turning that into a reality. Despite this, Musk remains fairly cautious about artificial intelligence and said that Tesla wants to make sure the shift to a society where robots do all the work is a safe one. “We always want to be careful we don’t go down the Terminator path,” he warned. In order to ensure that Optimus doesn’t go rogue, Telsa will have certain safeguards in place, such as limiting the speed of the robot to a mere 5mph and even including a stop button that can not be meddled with.
But as the showcase proved, Tesla’s Optimus bot still has a long way to go. The limited movements and awkward nature felt oddly reminiscent of a school science fair project, leading many to question if the timing of the announcement was right. Software engineer and progressive political activist Brianna Wu stated that “Disneyland had better animatronics in the ’60s,” while many Twitter users labelled it “something a college engineering class could build”. But perhaps the most telling description came from The Economist’s Mike Bird who simply labelled the Tesla robot “Bicentennial Man after 12 pints”. Nice.