Experts have doubts about Elon Musk’s plans for Tesla’s Optimus Bot

  • Eight experts told Insider they have doubts about Elon Musk’s promises about Tesla’s Optimus bot.
  • Several experts said Tesla’s AI Day demonstration was indistinguishable from other companies’ projects.
  • But one expert called the car industry “well placed” to use self-driving technology to help power robots.

As Elon Musk unveiled a prototype of Tesla’s Optimus robot, he promised the humanoid would one day change the way people live and work — but some experts are less optimistic.

AI researcher Filip Piekniewski told Insider that the robot “doesn’t stand out from other similar projects” after tweeting that Tesla’s AI Day last month was “next-level pathetic” and a “complete and utter scam.” Meanwhile, Melonee Wise, VP of Robotics Automation at Zebra Technologies, said the device was performing “far behind” other tech companies, including Boston Dynamics.

“There’s nothing particularly surprising about it, and any company with a sufficient budget could create a similar demonstration in a few months,” Piekniewski said.

Piecniewski said the robot does not “contradict Elon Musk’s claims” that it will revolutionize the work environment. Musk said robots could eventually replace factory workers and could even act as caregivers.

Tesla Optimus

The initial visualization of the Tesla Optimus last year.

Courtesy of Tesla

But Piecniewski disputed those claims. “Robots don’t have anything even close to a brain,” he said. “Yes, you can make them perform simple tasks and display superficial levels of situational awareness, but it only takes one detail to be off the mark and the robot will quickly end up in a series of mistakes that will usually end in irreparable disaster. “

Davide Scaramuzza, director of the Robotics and Perception Group at the University of Zurich, said the robot demonstration was “better than expected,” but only because last year Tesla revealed its plans for a humanoid robot with a man dressed in a robot suit.

This year, at Tesla’s second annual Artificial Intelligence Day, a prototype of the Optimus bot slowly entered the stage and shook the audience. Musk said it was the first time the robot walked “without any support.” The billionaire also showed off another prototype that looked closer to production, but had to be driven on stage by several workers.

Tesla's Optimus bot on AI Day on September 30, 2022

Tesla’s Optimus bot on AI Day on September 30, 2022


“The robot can actually do a lot more than what we showed you, we just didn’t want it to fall on its face,” Musk told viewers. He promised the bot would one day cost less than $20,000, and said the automaker hopes to start taking orders for it within the next three to five years — both plans that experts said were possible but subject to expectations. your for the robot.

“Building a robot that will be used in the real world is much more difficult than most people think,” said Dennis Hong, a professor of engineering and robotics at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I don’t think we’ll have humanoid robot butlers that can wash the dishes, take out the trash, and do our grocery shopping anytime soon. But starting with something much simpler, I’m cautiously optimistic.”

A demo video at the event also showed the robot picking up and carrying boxes at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, as well as watering plants.

Tesla's Optimus bot demo video

The demo video for Tesla’s Optimus bot at AI Day


Christian Hubicki, a professor of robotics at Florida State University, and Scaramuzza, a professor at the University of Zurich, told Insider that the live demonstration seemed largely scripted and controlled. Cynthia Yeung, head of product at Plus One Robotics, said the bot was either pre-programmed to perform the routine or remotely controlled.

“If the objects moved an inch, the robot couldn’t catch them anymore,” Scaramuzza said, noting that he believes Tesla is more than a decade away from a robot that could outperform a human worker.

The Optimus bot stood out in one way, according to several experts – its hands. Animesh Garg, a professor of AI Robotics at the University of Toronto, called the bot’s hands “impressive.” Hubicki noted that the superior dexterity of the robot’s hands could give the humanoid an advantage over other robots like Boston Dynamics’ Atlas when it comes to grasping “smaller and more complex objects.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Aitken, professor of robotics at the University of Sheffield, called Tesla “well placed” to use its Full Self-Driving navigation technology to advance robotics.

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