Tesla robot slowly walks on stage at AI Day


Tesla on Friday unveiled a humanoid robot prototype that it says could be a future product for the automaker.

The robot, named Optimus by Tesla, walked stiffly across the stage at Tesla’s AI Day, slowly waving to speakers and gesturing with its hands for about a minute. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the robot was operating untethered for the first time. Robotics developers often use tethers to support robots because they are not capable enough to walk without falling and hurting themselves.

Optimus’ abilities appear to trail significantly behind what robots from competitors such as Hyundai-owned Boston Dynamics are capable of. Boston Dynamics’ robots have been seen doing somersaults and performing sophisticated dance routines without tethers.

“The robot can actually do a lot more than what we just showed you,” Musk said at the event. “We just didn’t want it to fall on its face.”

Tesla also showed videos of its robot performing simple tasks like carrying boxes and watering plants with a watering can.

Musk claimed that if the robot was mass-produced it would “probably” cost less than $20,000. Tesla retains this Optimus advantage against competitors will be its ability to navigate independently using technology developed by Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” driver assistance system, as well as cost savings from what it has learned about manufacturing from its auto division. (Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” requires a human who is alert and attentive, ready to take over at any moment, as he is not yet capable of fully driving himself.)

Tesla has a history of aggressive price targets that ultimately fall short. The Tesla Model 3 has long been promised as a $35,000 vehicle, but it could only be purchased for a very short time at that price, and not directly on its website. The most affordable Tesla Model 3 now costs $46,990. When Tesla unveiled the Cybertruck in 2019, its pick-up truck that remains unavailable for purchase today, it was said to cost $39,990, but the price has been removed from Tesla’s website.

Tesla AI Day is largely intended as a recruiting event to attract talented people to join the company.

Musk claimed that the robot could transform culture. The robot unveiled Friday, despite its limitations compared to competitors, was significantly ahead of what Tesla unveiled a year ago, when a person jumped on stage in a robot suit and danced around.

“Last year it was just a person in a robot suit,” Musk said before the robot took the stage. “We have come a long way. Compared to that, it will be very impressive.”

Tesla isn’t the first automaker to develop a humanoid robot. Along with Hyundai’s Boston Dynamics, Honda worked on robots called “Asimo” for nearly 20 years. In its final form, Asimo was a child-sized humanoid robot capable of walking, running, climbing and descending stairs, and manipulating objects with its fingers.

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