Tesla Bot Optimus: Everything We Know So Far

Tesla Bot Optimus: Everything We Know So Far

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled Optimus last night at the company’s AI Day. He had teased the Tesla robot last year at the same event by inviting an actor in a suit to come on-stage, but today the actual robot walked on-stage by itself, unconnected to any power source or stabilizer, literally the first time the Tesla bot has done so.

The goal, Musk said, is “a fundamental transformation for civilization as we know it” at what Musk guessed would be a very reasonable cost: under $20,000. (Take that with a grain of salt: Tesla cars were supposed to be $35,000 once upon a time as well.) Widespread production, however, could lead to the “end of poverty,” according to Musk and lead to an economy that becomes “quasi-infinite.”

Optimus will eventually be more important to Tesla’s business than the cars that make up the lion’s share of the company’s revenue today, Musk also said.

Here’s what we know about Optimus, the Tesla bot, so far:

  • Brain: Tesla AI chip
  • Hands: 11 degrees of freedom
  • Muscles: 28 structural actuators
  • Joints: inspired by biological human joints
  • Eyes: cameras
  • Ears: microphone
  • Voice: speaker
  • Battery: 2.3kWh battery pack, 52V
  • Power consumption: 100 watts while sitting, 500 watts while walking
  • Speed: 5 MPH (8 kilometers/hour)
  • Connectivity: WiFi, LTE
  • Weight: 161 pounds (73 kilograms)
  • Carrying capacity: 20 pounds per hand (9 kilograms), likely more in different configurations
  • Materials: metal where necessary but as much plastic as possible for weight savings

In terms of movement capability, the Tesla robotics team is aiming extremely high, with no fewer than 18 sometimes-complex movements. Note, these are Tesla-reported, and the robot almost certainly does not do all of these yet.

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  • Forward walking
  • Squatting and squat walk
  • Side stepping
  • Turning while walking
  • Lifting objects from the ground up to eye level
  • Squeezing or gripping and object and lifting it
  • Climbing stairs
  • Squatting and picking up and object
  • Walking on a slope or hill
  • Sliding objects
  • Using a drill
  • Pushing and pulling objects
  • Turning with an object
  • Using a screwdriver

The timetable, like all Elon Musk timetables, is aggressive in the extreme. Tesla hopes to begin sales within three years and certainly before five years. That’s challenging considering the complexity of the task.

“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said.

He was not shy about predicting the consequences of fully-functional robotic workers and assistants, saying they would lead to a “future of abundance, a future where there is no poverty, a future where you can have whatever you want in terms of products and services.” Musk acknowledged that there are robots available today — perhaps from companies like Boston Dynamics — that appear to be able to do more, but said that Optimus, unlike them, is intended for mass production: millions of units.

Achieving that would bring about a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it, Musk added.

He’s not wrong: if Tesla or any other company can develop working, functional, effective robots that are widely available at a relatively low cost, it changes almost unimaginably huge parts of modern economies and societies. Warehouse workers, fast food workers, janitors, factory workers, construction workers, maids, landscaping workers, shipping and receiving personnel, and stocking clerks are just a few roles that could be taken by high-level humaniform robots.

But our ability — and Tesla’s ability — to actually deliver them any time soon is something that roboticists are skeptical about.

MIT professor and director at the Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Diana Rus, for instance, recently told me that “the more you generalize, the less you optimize,” which is why so many robots that we have today do not take human shape.

One way of addressing that is reconfigurable robots.

“There is a kind of a trade-off between how effective the robot is at doing a set of tasks and how many tasks the robot can do,” Rus said. “My idea was to create universal robot cells that could combine to form different types of machines … so the shape and the function of the machine would be specialized,but since each machine will be built out of the same building blocks, we could have a kind of a generality towards how we think about robots.”

That’s called modular self-reconfiguring robot systems.

Time will tell if those kinds or robots, or specific-purpose robots, or Elon Musk’s general purpose humanoid robots will win out.

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