Tesla could have a working humanoid robot by September 2022, says Elon Musk

It's only a matter of time.
Deena Theresa
Tesla OptimusTesla / YouTube

Recently, Elon Musk tweeted that the Tesla AI Day was postponed to September 30 from August 19, in the hopes of unveiling a "working" Optimus prototype.

It's a downer for Musk enthusiasts, but with enough faith and money, something is bound to come barrelling out of Tesla's assembly line. But not everyone agrees it will come this year, or even function properly for years — much like other Tesla products with ambitious timelines.

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Optimus, or Optimus Subprime — a bipedal, humanoid robot that Musk teased during Tesla's AI Day in August 2021 — is the billionaire's vision of a bot who could take on all the boring, repetitive tasks that humans would rather not do.

Just when you thought this was another absurd, fictional idea that would fade away into oblivion (Remember the robotic snake—style chargers?), Musk reminded everyone of the Tesla bot at the grand opening of the electric vehicle maker’s $1.1-billion factory in Austin, Texas, in April.

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Version 1 of Optimus will hopefully start production in 2023, he said. "It will upend our idea of what the economy is," explained Musk in a video of the event. "It will be able to do basically anything humans don’t want to do. It will do it. It’s going to bring an age of abundance. It may be hard to imagine it, but as you see Optimus develop, and we will make sure it’s safe, no Terminator stuff, it will transform the world to a degree even greater than the car".

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The first announcement of the Tesla bot saw an actor dressed in a body suit, designed to look like the robot. At the time, Musk said that the robot was intended to be friendly and navigate through a world of humans. The primary goal was to create a machine that could lower labor costs.

“If you think about the economy, it is — the foundation of the economy is labor,” said Musk. “Capital equipment is distilled labor. So what happens if you don’t actually have a labor shortage? I’m not sure what an economy even means at that point. That’s what Optimus is about, so (it’s) very important.”

“It should be able to, you know, please go to the store and get me the following groceries, that kind of thing,” added Musk.

While Musk mentioned that Optimus could replace humans, he maintains that it won't pose a threat — since the controls will be decentralized. "As you see Optimus develop, everyone’s going to make sure it’s safe," Musk said earlier this month, in a CNBC report.

Musk has previously said the robot would be designed so that if something were to go wrong, humans would be able to outrun or overpower it.

Vital features of Tesla's AI prototype

The Tesla bot is currently slated to be five foot eight inches tall (1.7 m) and weighs 125 pounds (56.6 kg).

It will be manufactured out of lightweight materials, according to the company, equipped with human-level hands and 2-axis feet for balance. 

Tesla had said that the robot was being proposed for "non-automotive robotic" use, which meant it would operate via A.I., executing commands through the company's Dojo advanced neural network a supercomputer interface that helps Tesla vehicles navigate through roads and streets.

"It makes sense to put that onto a humanoid form," said Musk, to CNET.

The robot's head will be equipped with the same autopilot cameras that are built into Tesla vehicles. Its face will be a “screen for useful information.”

The company claims that it will carry a maximum of 45 pounds (20.4 kg), deadlift 150 pounds (68 kg), and will move at a maximum speed of 5 mph (8.04 km/h).

The robot's movement will be powered by 40 electromechanical actuators (including 12 in the arms, hands, and legs, as well as two in the torso and two in the neck) — and it would be equipped with the Tesla FSD (full self-driving) computer for intelligence.

Pocket-friendly? You're kidding

Given that Optimus could be humanity's best friend, surely buying one could burn a hole in your pocket?

But, surprise! Musk mentioned that he believed the cost for a humanoid robot would be less than that of a car, though the cost will be higher initially, until manufacturing catches up, and then drives down the costs. 

"And then we'll see rapid growth year over year of the usefulness of the humanoid robots and decrease in cost and scaling up production," Musk said.

Though there are predictions that the robot could cost $10,000, or far more, there could also be a one-time upfront fee to buy the robot, followed by a monthly subscription fee.

'Bigger than the car'

In a recent interview uploaded by TED, Musk said that although companies like Boston Dynamics have shown that it is indeed possible to make "compelling" humanoid robots, we're a ways from seeing robots with the A.I. capacity to help with tasks around the home. "The things that are currently missing are enough intelligence for the robot to navigate the real world and do useful things without being explicitly instructed," Musk said.

"Those are two things that Tesla is very good at," Musk explained. "And so then we basically just need to design the specialized actuators and sensors that are needed for a humanoid robot. People have no idea, this is going to be bigger than the car."

According to CNBC, on Tesla's first-quarter results call, Musk said: "I was surprised that people do not realize the magnitude of the Optimus robot program. Those who are insightful or who listen carefully will understand that Optimus ultimately will be worth more than the car business and worth more than full self—driving. That's my firm belief."

Not everyone shares in the joy. Gary Marcus, an AI researcher, told CNBC, that he was skeptical that Optimus could live up to the hype by 2023.

“Tesla has not even (after years of effort) come close to reliably solving one relatively simple task (driving); to claim that a robot that has never been shown publicly will solve all of the human tasks in the next year or two is preposterous,” he said.

Will Musk be able to accelerate results and develop Version 1 in a year? Will the Optimus' lifespan will extend beyond a prototype AI? Or is this more hype that will fall short? Only Musk knows.

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