Tesla CEO Elon Musk kicked off Tesla’s 2022 AI Day with a brisk level of expectation — “we’ve come a long way” — then stepped aside to allow the first iteration of its robot to take the stage.
The robot was not a human dressed in a robot suit like last year. Instead, Tesla showed off a working robot, albeit one with exposed wires and a bit of a wobble, at its second annual event. According to Musk, it was the first time he had worked without “any supports, cranes, mechanical mechanisms or cables.”
After a brief turn around the stage, the robot left the stage before the rest of the presentation continued, which included several short videos of the robot (now strapped in for stability) carrying a box to a desk, watering a plant and picks up a small piece of metal at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California.
The goal of the demo and the presentation that followed, in which several Tesla employees gave what can only be described as a bipedal robotics 101 lesson, was to show more progress. (After all, anything beyond a man in a suit could be considered progress). Instead, the event was intended to telegraph where Tesla is headed, build confidence in its trajectory, and (hopefully) recruit the talent needed to drive the program forward.
Ultimately, Musk said the first-generation prototype, which he referred to as the Bumble C, would evolve into the Optimus. This potential robot would be able to walk efficiently and maintain balance, carry a 20 kg bag, use tools and have a precision grip for small robots. The Bumble C prototype is equipped with a 2.3 kilowatt-hour battery pack, which a Tesla employee said was “good for about a full day of work.”
Some of the robot’s specifications have changed since last year. For example, the bot’s weight has increased from 125 pounds to 160 pounds.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the Tesla bot roadshow was the repeated reference and crossover with Tesla vehicles — and most notably its Autopilot strategy.
The company said it is leveraging its energy products and using those elements for the bot, including battery management. The supercomputer used in Tesla vehicles is also in the Tesla bot. And Tesla is leveraging the hardware and software used in its advanced Autopilot driver assistance system for the bot as well. The Tesla bot is also equipped with wireless connectivity, as well as audio support and hardware-level safety features, which the company said are “important to protect both the robot and the people around the robot.”
The big looming question is whether all these efficiencies, once combined into the bot, will result in a scalable bot that works. Of course, Musk thinks it’s possible, going so far as to say he envisions the Optimus coming in at just $20,000.
Toward the end of the nearly three-hour program, Musk said the Tesla robot will start small.
“We’re going to start the Optimist with very simple factory testing,” Musk said. “You know, like I’m just loading a place like you saw in the video.”
He later added: “Right now we just want to make the basic humanoid work well and our goal is the fastest way to a useful humanoid robot.”