Tesla presents its humanoid robot Optimus, while the markets await it on the electric car

With a cautious step, cables and electronic chips exposed, “Bumble C” arrived on the stage of the Tesla AI Day conference, in Palo Alto, California, on Friday, September 30. He sketched a hand salute, and video showed him bringing a package to an employee and watering plants. This copy of the Optimus humanoid robot, designed by Elon Musk’s Tesla company, made the show at the electric car manufacturer’s show dedicated to artificial intelligence.

Employees also wheeled a more advanced prototype Optimus, with fewer exposed cables, but still unable to walk on its own. Elon Musk acknowledged that other companies have designed more sophisticated robots, but “they lack a brain and they lack the intelligence to move on their own (…). And they are very expensive”. Tesla also showed a video of the robot, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) developed by the company and tested on its self-driving cars, carrying boxes and placing them on a metal shelf in what looks like an assembly line. . But the public did not have the opportunity to see the robot perform these tasks live.

“A Future of Abundance”

Elon Musk plans to test Optimus in the group’s California factory to prove its usefulness. He hopes there will be one day ” friendly “ and that arguing with him will seem ” natural “. He promised security features, to avoid a “Terminator-like scenario”. “Of course there will be a ‘catgirl’ version”tweeted the whimsical entrepreneur during the conference, with the photo of a female silhouette from behind, camped in front of a line of metal robots.

The boss of Tesla aims for a robot which, in time, will cost “probably less than $20,000”and will be designed to be replicated in “millions of units”. He is betting on first deliveries within three to five years. The conference should be used to recruit more engineers to achieve this goal, and so “fundamentally transform civilization”.

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The multi-billionaire presented in 2021 this project for a robot that can perform repetitive tasks instead of humans. “It means a future of abundance, a future where there is no poverty, where people will have what they want in terms of products and services”detailed the boss of SpaceX (rockets) and Neuralink (brain implants), never stingy with extraordinary predictions.

“This thing is going to fall a lot”

The presentation did not convince all observers of robotics research. “If you are looking to develop a robot that is both affordable and useful, choosing a humanoid appearance and size is not necessarily the most appropriate”, said Tom Ryden, executive director of nonprofit start-up incubator MassRobotics. AI researcher Filip Piekniewski judged on Twitter that it would be good to test the falls of the robot Optimus, “because this thing is going to fall a lot”. Expert Cynthia Yeung of Plus One Robotics said Tesla’s presentation had no “nothing avant-garde”.

Tesla is not the first automaker to embark on the design of humanoid robots. More than twenty years ago, Honda unveiled Asimo, who looked like an astronaut, during a carefully prepared demonstration in which he poured liquid into a cup. Hyundai also has a collection of robots with human or animal appearance, since its acquisition in 2021 of the company Boston Dynamics. Ford is a partner of the American start-up Agility Robotics, which produces robots with four limbs, able to walk and lift packages.

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In Tom Ryden’s eyes, in the past, spectacular presentations have not led to “practical application scenarios” living up to the big announcements: these companies “Learn a lot about how humanoids work, but as for having such a robot as a common product, I’m not sure that’s coming anytime soon.”

Since the announcement of Optimus, “Musk faces the doubters”notes analyst Dan Ives, of the investment bank Wedbush Securities. “The market is focused on improving batteries, on the production capacities of the new factories in Berlin and Austin [Texas], and on competition from all sides for electric cars. Not on humanoid robots. »

Conflict with Twitter

The boss is also divided on autonomous vehicles, which he has been promising very soon for years. Tesla’s Autopilot system is under investigation by US regulators over safety issues for triggering unnecessary braking or crashing into emergency vehicles parked along highways with flashing lights on. Elon Musk, he believes to record the best scores in security tests. “You have a moral obligation” to deploy an autonomous car system “if it reduces the number of accidents and deaths”he said on Friday.

He also said twice on Friday that he was ” essential “ that the company building this robot is listed on the stock exchange, “because if the public doesn’t like what Tesla is doing, the public can buy stock and vote differently”. “It’s very important that I can’t just do what I want”he added with a laugh.

This comment will not go unnoticed in the context of the conflict which opposes it to Twitter and which must lead to a high-stakes trial in mid-October. The richest man in the world signed a contract to take over the social network in the spring, before reconsidering his decision in July. The platform is suing him to force him to honor his commitment. Elon Musk had said he wanted to make Twitter a private company (not listed on the stock exchange), which would therefore escape any external control.

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Le Monde with AP and AFP

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Tesla presents its humanoid robot Optimus, while the markets await it on the electric car

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