Tesla presents its humanoid robot prototype… and sows doubt

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On September 30, after much hype, the Optimus robot developed by Tesla made a grand entrance on stage at an event organized by the company. If the crowd seemed enthusiastic, the robot did not really live up to the capacities announced by Elon Musk a few months before… The CEO declared that he was nevertheless able to achieve much more than what the public could see live.

Optimus, which is based on the AI ​​that Tesla uses in its autonomous vehicles (Full Self-Driving), entered the stage slowly and rather awkwardly, then waved to the crowd. But it ultimately turned out to be quite disappointing compared to Elon Musk’s vision of the humanoid robot, presented last year. The public attending this event dedicated to artificial intelligence could also have a glimpse of the next generation of Optimus: the prototype was brought to the stage… carried by three people. The CEO of Tesla justified himself by specifying that his robot was so fragile that he did not want to risk it falling.

The demonstration therefore did not have the desired effect and disappointed many experts. Filip Piekniewskian artificial intelligence researcher, tweeted that Tesla AI Day was a “complete and utter scam” and added that it would be “nice to drop test because this thing will drop a lot.” Cynthia Yeung, robotics expertappears equally disappointed: I dreamed that I was in a comedy, with Taika Waititi as a product manager working on robots. Then I woke up and remembered that I had live tweeted the 3-4 hours of Tesla AI Day “. In summary, Tesla’s intelligent robot is not about to revolutionize the robotics sector.

A demonstration that raises some skepticism

I want to set some expectations for our robot Optimus… Last year it was just a person in a robot suit, but we’ve come a long way, and compared to that, it’s going to be very impressive Elon Musk said before Optimus took the stage. One of the engineers specified that it was the first time that the robot had walked without a tether or support.

But after several months of development, the robot does not seem for the moment endowed with such exceptional capacities. Critics point to his slow and uncertain gait (while he was walking on very flat, unobstructed ground). He also did not give any live demonstrations. A glimpse of its skills, however, was shown in a video, in which the robot is seen watering plants, carrying a box and picking up a metal bar.


Although the machine has five-fingered hands, promising near-human dexterity, robotics experts remain skeptical about its future capabilities. Elon Musk had indeed announced that his robot would be designed to perform tasks useful to humans, such as preparing meals, or mowing the lawn.

When trying to develop a robot that’s both affordable and useful, a humanoid shape and size isn’t necessarily the best fit. », pointed out Tom Ryden, executive director of Mass Robotics, a nonprofit start-up incubator. Honda had also developed a humanoid robot in the past, called Asimo. Developed in 2000, it was the first humanoid robot capable of realistic walking; the most improved version proved capable of pouring liquid into a glass. But the project never got beyond the research and development stage.

An “extremely capable” robot under $20,000

Hyundai — majority shareholder of Boston Dynamics since June 2021 — as well as Ford, which has partnered with Agility Robotics, have both been involved in humanoid robot projects. But if this research can potentially lead to machines capable of walking and overcoming obstacles, no project has yet resulted in “a scenario of real use”, notes Tom Ryden. Elon Musk clarified, meanwhile, that Optimus will probably be marketed “within three to five years”.

Tesla’s goal is to manufacture an “extremely capable” robot in very large quantities (Musk speaks of millions of units), at a cost that could be less than that of a car (less than $20,000 according to estimates). of the CEO).

The latest generation Tesla Bot was also shown, although it is not yet able to walk. ” We have an Optimus robot with fully Tesla-designed actuators, a battery pack, a control system, everything. It wasn’t quite ready to go, but we wanted to show you something pretty close to what’s going into production said Musk. In appearance, this latest prototype is actually a little closer to the concept presented by the CEO of Tesla last year. He is notably able to move each of his fingers independently and has opposable thumbs.

Will Tesla be the first manufacturer to offer a really useful humanoid robot? At the moment, in terms of autonomy and capabilities, it has not done better than existing projects. It has 28 degrees of freedom and an additional 11 degrees of freedom in each hand — which are designed to carry a 9 kg bag; its 2.3 kWh battery allows it to be autonomous for about a full day of work. ” There is still a lot of work to be done to refine and improve Optimus “, recognizes Elon Musk. That said, the Optimus was developed in a very short time (about eight months); it could therefore be that Tesla surprises us with a truly “all-purpose” robot within three years.

Source : IEEE Spectrum

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Tesla presents its humanoid robot prototype… and sows doubt

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