If they ask you what Tesla manufactures, you’ll have the answer on the tip of your tongue: electric and (almost) autonomous cars. But robotics is also on the company’s radar. It is no coincidence that on Tesla AI Day 2022, Elon Musk presented the optimusa real humanoid robot — not a person dressed as a robot.
The codename refers to Optimus Prime, the robot that stars in the franchise transformers. Okay, Tesla’s Optimus isn’t capable of getting into a fight and doesn’t transform into a vehicle. Despite this, it shares some systems and sensors with the brand’s cars.
Musk’s idea is to put the robot up for sale in the not-too-distant future, with a price tag of around $20,000. Note, with this, that Tesla is not just aiming to have a humanoid robot concept. The plan is to turn it into a real product, to be bought even by individuals.
From Bumble C to Optimus
At the event, Musk first presented the Bumble C, codenamed for a housingless robot that, as such, displayed cables and its internal structure. Probably, the decision to show it like this was based on the intention to prove that it is a real prototype.
This is because, last year, the Tesla demonstrated with a person dressed as a robot. The idea was to illustrate what the project should be able to do, but an atmosphere of embarrassment remained in the air.
At this year’s event, the real robot took a few steps on stage and waved to the audience without the aid of external cables or other types of support. However, his movements were slow and unvaried.
It was not unexpected. Before the robot took the stage, a Tesla engineer warned that it was the first time it had been demonstrated without support elements.
According to Musk, the robot will be more agile when it can rely on actuators (mechanisms that produce movements) developed by Tesla itself. The unit on display at Tesla AI Day 2022 uses actuators from other companies.
Although quite limited, the current Bumble C is the result of work that began six months ago, explained Tesla employees. They understand that, for this short period, the results are very interesting.
But the plan is to make Bumble C evolve into Optimus. A prototype of the latter, with the official name of Tesla Optimus Unit 1, was also shown on stage. It has an outer finish that is more reminiscent of a man’s form than the previous robot.
However, Optimus is in its initial phase. So early that he still can’t walk on his own and he just gave a hand salute before he stopped moving altogether.
It still doesn’t walk, but when it does, it should look like a human actually moving. The robot has 28 structural actuators and, it is estimated, will consume 100 W while sitting and 500 W when walking. It’s just not exactly light: at its current stage, we’re talking about 73 kg.
Cool, but who’s going to buy it?
Elon Musk acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to be done, but he expects the robot to be truly ready for use in five or ten years.
To do so, the project will take advantage of some technologies already available for Tesla cars. One example is Autopilot, an autonomous driving software that is being adapted to work with the humanoid robot.
The idea is that it can carry volumes of up to 10 kg, handle tools and perform small repetitive tasks. In later stages, the robot will even be able to perform more complex activities, such as cooking (is it?).
Wireless connectivity (including Wi-Fi), audio support and hardware-level security features to protect both the robot and people around it will also be part of the package.
On the last aspect, I imagine that the objective is to prevent the robot from being hacked to attack humans, for example (help, Isaac Asimov!).
$20,000 for a humanoid robot that can perform many tasks doesn’t seem like a bad price. But the question is, who will buy a robot like this? I can imagine him working in factories, for example. On the other hand, I don’t know if we are prepared to have something like this in the home environment.
In any case, Musk made it clear that the robot is being developed for mass production. Even a version with shapes that resemble a woman is in the entrepreneur’s plans.