Tesla’s robot strategy is inextricably linked to its Autopilot strategy, for better or worse • TechCrunch

Tesla unveiled its first real prototype of its Optimus humanoid robot on Friday — a real robot this time, in the strictest sense, instead of an actual flesh-and-blood human dressed in a strange costume. The robot performed some basic functions, such as walking a short distance and then raising its arms — all for the first time without props or a crane, according to Tesla founder Elon Musk.

The company may be taking its first steps in humanoid robotics, but it has a long way to go in the business. Musk said the Optimus bot will ultimately be more valuable “than the car business, worth more than FSD [Tesla’s add-on ‘Full Self-Driving’ feature which does no such thing].”

What was evident at Friday night’s event is that Tesla is making the financially wise but strategically questionable decision to combine the fates of both Optimus and its Autopilot (and by extension, FSD) ambitions.

Tesla has suggested that the reason it has been able to move so quickly in the world of robotics is that it has already laid a lot of groundwork in its work trying to develop autonomous driving for vehicles.

“Think about it. We’re just moving from the wheels to our feet,” explained one of the company’s engineers. “So some of the components are quite similar […] It’s exactly the same fullness network. Now we’ll talk a little more detail later with the Autopilot team […] The only thing that has really changed is the training data.”

It was a recurring theme throughout the presentation, with various presenters from Tesla (the company fielded many, as is perhaps to be expected for an event billed primarily as a recruiting exercise) mentioning how closely linked the two realms of research and development. is.

In fact, what Tesla showed with its robot on stage at the event was a very short demo that barely matched and certainly did not surpass the large number of humanoid robot demonstrations by other companies over the years, including the most famous Boston Dynamics. And the connection between FSD and Optimus is tenuous at best.

The domain expertise, although limited to a simple translation from Tesla’s presentation, is actually quite complex. Bipedal robots navigating pedestrian paths are a very different beast than autonomous vehicle paths, and oversimplifying the connection does a disservice to the vast existing body of research and development work on the subject.

Tesla’s presenters consistently made a relatively seamless transition between Optimus and the autonomous navigation capabilities of its vehicles. One of Optimus’ keynote speakers was Milan Kovacs, the company’s Director of Autopilot Software Engineering, who handed over to fellow Autopilot director Ashok Elluswamy to dive further into Tesla’s Autopilot concerns.

It’s very clear that Tesla believes this is a connected challenge that will lead to efficiencies the market will appreciate as it pursues both problems. The reality is that there is a lot of convincing that needs to be done to really make the case that the ties are more than surface deep.

Not to mention, Autopilot faces its own challenges of public and regulatory skepticism and scrutiny. A robot you live with every day in close proximity doesn’t need such potential danger.

Tesla may have turned the suite man into a real robot with real actuators and processors, but it still has a ways to go to deliver on the promise of a viable sub-$20,000 product. will we ever be able to buy.

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