With a cautious step, cables and electronic chips exposed, “Bumble C” arrived on stage at the Tesla AI Day conference in Palo Alto, California, on Friday, September 30. He sketched a handshake, and video showed him bringing a package to an employee and watering plants. This replica of the humanoid robot Optimus, designed by Elon Musk’s Tesla company, made the show at the electric car maker’s exhibition dedicated to artificial intelligence.
The employees also drove 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 at the group’s factory in California to prove its usefulness. He hopes one day “friendly” and it will seem to quarrel with him “natural”. He promised safety features to avoid one “Terminator-like scenario”. “Of course there will be a ‘catgirl’ version”the quirky entrepreneur tweeted during the conference with the image of a female silhouette from behind, camped out in front of a row of metal robots.
The boss of Tesla is aiming for a robot that will eventually 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 will be used to recruit more engineers to achieve this goal, and then “fundamentally transform civilization”.
In 2021, the multibillionaire presented 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 want what they want in terms of products and services”detailed the head of SpaceX (rockets) and Neuralink (brain implants), never stingy with extraordinary predictions.
“This thing is going to drop a lot”
The presentation did not convince all observers of robotics research. “If you’re looking to develop a robot that’s both affordable and useful, choosing a humanoid appearance and size isn’t necessarily the most appropriate.”, said Tom Ryden, CEO of nonprofit startup incubator MassRobotics. AI researcher Filip Piekniewski assessed on Twitter that it would be good to test the robot Optimus’ fall, “because this thing is going to drop a lot”. Expert Cynthia Yeung of Plus One Robotics said Tesla’s presentation had no “no avant-garde”.
Tesla is not the first car manufacturer to start designing humanoid robots. More than twenty years ago, Honda unveiled Asimo, who looked like an astronaut, during a carefully planned demonstration where he poured liquid into a cup. Hyundai also has a collection of robots with a human or animal appearance since it was acquired in 2021 by the company Boston Dynamics. Ford is a partner in the American start-up Agility Robotics, which produces robots with four limbs that are able to walk and lift packages.
In Tom Ryden’s eyes, spectacular presentations have not led to success in the past “practical application scenarios” live up to the big announcements: these companies “Learning a lot about how humanoids work, but in terms of having such a robot as a mainstream product, I’m not sure that’s coming soon.”
Since the announcement of Optimus, “Musk faces the doubters”notes analyst Dan Ives, from the investment bank Wedbush Securities. “The market is focused on improving batteries, on the production capacity 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 into autonomous vehicles, which he has been promising very soon for years. Tesla’s Autopilot system is under investigation by US regulators over safety concerns for triggering unnecessary braking or hitting emergency vehicles parked along highways with flashing lights on. Elon Musk, he believes to achieve the best results in security tests. “You have a moral obligation” to implement an autonomous car system “if it reduces the number of accidents and deaths”he said Friday.
He also said twice last Friday that he was “important” that the company that builds this robot is listed on the stock exchange, “Because if the public doesn’t like what Tesla is doing, the public can buy shares 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 opposing Twitter, which is set to 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 that he wanted to make Twitter a private company (not listed), which would therefore escape any external control.