Tesla unveiled a prototype humanoid robot on Friday that it says could be a future product for the automaker.
The robot, dubbed Optimus by Tesla, walked stiffly on stage at Tesla’s AI day, slowly waved to the crowd and gestured with its hands for about a minute. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the robot was working untethered for the first time. Robotics developers often use tethers to support robots because they are not able to walk enough without falling and getting hurt.
The capabilities of the Optimus seem significantly lower than those capable of robots from competitors such as Boston Dynamics, owned by Hyundai. Boston Dynamics robots have been seen doing backflips and performing fancy dance routines without tethering.
“The robot can actually do a lot more than what we just showed you,” Musk said at the event. “We just didn’t want it to fall on his face.”
Tesla also showed videos of his robot performing simple tasks like carrying boxes and watering plants with a watering can.
Musk claimed that if the robot were mass-produced, it would “probably” cost less than $20,000. Tesla argues that the Optimus advantage over its competition will be its ability to navigate autonomously using technology developed from Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” driver assistance system, as well as cost savings through what it has learned about manufacturing from its automotive division. (Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” requires an alert and observant human, ready to take over at a moment’s notice, as they are not yet capable of fully driving themselves.)
Tesla has a history of aggressive price targets that it ultimately fails to meet. The Tesla Model 3 was long promised as a $35,000 vehicle, but could only be purchased very briefly at that price, and not directly on its website. The most affordable Tesla Model 3 is now $46,990. When Tesla unveiled the Cybertruck in 2019, its pickup that is still not available for purchase today, it cost $39,990, but the price has since been removed from Tesla’s website.
Tesla AI Day is designed largely as a recruiting event to attract talented people to join the company.
Musk claimed the robot could be transformative for civilization. The robot shown on Friday, despite its limitations compared to competitors, was significantly ahead of what Tesla revealed a year ago, when a person jumped on stage in a robot costume and danced.
“’Last year it was just a person in a robot costume,’ Musk said before the robot took the stage. “We have come a long way. Compared to that, it’s going to be very impressive.
Tesla isn’t the first automaker to develop a humanoid robot. Along with Hyundai’s Boston Dynamics, Honda has been working on robots dubbed “Asimo” for nearly 20 years. In his final form, Asimo was a child-sized humanoid robot capable of walking, running, climbing up and down stairs untethered, and manipulating objects with his fingers.