Tesla Optimus: Elon Musk finally shows a real robot and not a comedian disguised as a cyborg

There is still a long way to go for Tesla with its Optimus robot. But at least it’s a real machine, not an individual disguised as a cyborg.

At the time, it was kind of a joke. Elon Musk mentioned a project to develop humanoid robots capable of helping humans with various tasks. But in 2021, the American entrepreneur still had nothing to show: also, the show had been provided by a person disguised as a robot mimicking robotic gestures.

A year later, it is clear that this is no longer quite a simple joke. The new edition of Tesla AI Day 2022 (“artificial intelligence day at Tesla, the car manufacturer behind the famous electric and semi-autonomous cars), organized on September 29, this time showed not an actor , but a real robot.

Optimus, Tesla’s robot, still in “beta”

We already knew his name: Optimus. But we had not yet seen a “functional” prototype in action. The machine presented during the day is indeed able to stand up, to make a few movements with its arms and hands – such as greeting an individual –, to rotate its pelvis and to move forward in a straight line and to change direction.

« The goal of AI Day is to show Tesla’s immense depth and breadth in artificial intelligence, hardware and robotics. », commented Elon Musk, October 1. And, the progress is real: before, it was a disguised person. Now it’s a machine that moves without any cables connected to an external source.

But there is still a long way to go: the conference also had the effect of reminding us that the robot used is above all a development platform. You could feel it by looking at his movements, which sometimes seemed uncertain – one could almost have worried that he would tip over – and that everything was done at low speed.

Funny thing, Optimus is a name that refers to the universe of Transformers, where intelligent robots compete against each other. One of them, Optimus Prime, is a leader and the franchise takes him on crazy adventures. But, with Tesla, Optimus is destined for boring, repetitive, painful or risky tasks: carrying a heavy load, opening a box, tightening a bolt, watering the flowers.

Autonomy is not quite that yet. // Source: Screenshot

The general appearance of the machine also underlined this aspect: there was no hull to cover and hide its artificial entrails. Admittedly, another model was shown later, with a “body”, but this prototype is even less successful. He’s prettier, but he can’t stand up on his own. In any case, not during the event.

When this version was unveiled, several three Tesla employees were around the robot, to help it move. The machine was also attached to a metal rod. The robot didn’t even touch the only one, but it “worked”: it moved its arms, legs and head. One could almost believe in a kind of figurine put on display in a window.

In its promotional videos, in computer generated images, Tesla is obviously much more impressive. The company showed a sequence detailing the evolution of the walk of its robot, from a static position. The initially hesitant and very bent gait ends up giving way to a faster and more upright gait.

What’s next for Tesla Optimus?

This is certainly a first milestone for Tesla and it is clear that the company will be able to present a more accomplished model during its 2023 edition of its AI day – a version with a “body”. But, in fact, it will undoubtedly suffer from the comparison with what is already being done elsewhere. How not to think of Boston Dynamics robots that dance, run, hop?

We are still far from the futuristic vision of Elon Musk, who imagines robots with a utility for domestic or industrial tasks. In the long run, Tesla would like to price its Optimus for less than $20,000 and sell millions. A fantasized objective today: even Boston Dynamics, despite its expertise, does not sell as many and its products remain expensive.

The best plants for Tesla AI Day
A test: the robot waters plants. It is still connected via a cable. // Source: Screenshot

To go quickly, Tesla imagines transferring part of its know-how acquired with driving autonomy to apply it to robots. Bridges undoubtedly exist in the detection and understanding of the immediate environment, whether from a car or a robot. The manufacturer will also have to develop or acquire new faculties.

In addition to all the robotics part to be developed, the other major challenge is that of autonomy. For daily use, at home or in a factory, it is necessary that the internal batteries of Optimus can hold. Here again, the company can rely on its achievements in the automotive sector. There is also a lot of optimization work to be done on the humanoid itself.

Elon Musk’s vision is marked by science fiction and his speech around the Optimus robot reflected this influence. The question now remains whether and when such a vision can be realized. Because the American entrepreneur also has the annoying tendency to promise a lot and quickly. But, when it comes to providing what has been advanced, it is much more difficult.