Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled his much-lauded humanoid robot “Optimus” at the electric vehicle maker’s “AI Day” event on Friday.
The billionaire said the robot business would be worth more than his cars, hoping to expand beyond self-driving vehicles that have yet to become a reality despite his repeated promises.
A prototype robot came on stage and waved to the seated audience. Footage is shown of a robot carrying a box, watering plants and moving metal rods in a car factory.
“Our goal is to build a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said at an event at Tesla’s offices in Palo Alto, California. “There is still a lot of work to be done to improve and prove Optimus.”
Musk said that currently humanoid robots “lack brains,” saying they lacked the intelligence to run the world on their own, and were also very expensive and made in small quantities.
In contrast, he said, Optimus would be an “extremely capable robot,” which would be produced on a very large scale — eventually millions of units — and was expected to cost much less than a car, under $20,000.
Musk was also expected to discuss Tesla’s long-delayed self-driving technology.
In May, the CEO said the world’s most valuable carmaker would be “basically worth zero” without achieving full self-driving capability, and was facing growing regulatory probes as well as technological hurdles.
“There will be lots of technical details and cool hardware demos,” Musk tweeted on Wednesday, adding that the event was aimed at recruiting engineers.
Tesla’s live demo record is mixed. Launches usually generate excitement, but in 2019, when Musk had an employee throw a steel ball at the armored window of a new electric pickup truck, the glass cracked.
A key test for a robot is whether it can handle unexpected situations.
Musk announced Tesla’s plan for humanoid robots at its AI Day last August and delayed this year’s event from August to get the prototype robot working, with the plan to begin production possibly next year.
Tesla teased the bot’s reveal on social media with an image of metal robotic arms forming a heart shape. But building human-like, versatile hands that can manipulate different objects is extremely challenging, said Henny Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University.
At first, Optimus, an allusion to the powerful and benevolent leader of the Autobots in the Transformers media franchise, would do boring or dangerous jobs, including moving parts around Tesla’s factories or fixing bolts on a car with a wrench, Musk says.
“There’s so much about what humans can do dexterously that it’s very, very difficult for robots.” And it’s not going to change whether the robot is a robotic arm or a humanoid shape,” Jonathan Hurst, chief technology officer of Agility Robotics, a humanoid robotics company, told Reuters.
Musk said that in the future, robots could be used in homes, making dinners, mowing lawns and caring for the elderly, and even becoming people’s “friends” or sexual partners.
He is also due to give an update at Friday’s event on Tesla’s high-speed Dojo computer, which was introduced last year and the company said is an integral part of its development of self-driving technology.
Musk said he expects Tesla to achieve full self-driving this year and mass-produce robotaxis without steering wheels or pedals by 2024.
At the Autonomy event in 2019, Musk promised a 1m robot taxi by 2020, but has yet to deliver such a car.