Tesla and Elon Musk present the first prototype of the robot "Optimus"

Tesla and Elon Musk present the first prototype of the robot “Optimus”

It’s not the first automaker to experiment with humanoid robots.

DETROIT — An early prototype of the Optimus humanoid robot offered by Tesla Inc. walked slowly and awkwardly across a stage, turned around and waved to a cheering crowd at the company’s artificial intelligence event on Friday.

But the robot’s basic tasks with exposed wires and electronics — as well as a later, next-gen version that had to be carried on stage by three men — fell far short of CEO Elon Musk’s vision of a robot-like human who can change the world.

Musk told the crowd, many of whom could be hired by Tesla, that the robot can do much more than the public saw on Friday. He said it was also delicate and “we just didn’t want it to fall on your face”.

Musk suggested the problem with flashy robot demonstrations is that the robots ‘lack a brain’ and lack the intelligence to steer themselves, but he gave little evidence on Friday that Optimus was smarter. than robots developed by other companies and researchers. .

The demo did not impress artificial intelligence researcher Filip Piekniewski, who tweeted that it was “worthy of the name” and that it was a “complete and total scam”. He said it would be “nice to test the drop, because this thing will drop a lot.”

“None of this is state of the art,” robotics expert Cynthia Yeung tweeted. “Hire doctors and attend @Tesla robotics talks.”

Yeung also questioned why Tesla opted for his robot to have a five-fingered human hand, noting “there’s a reason why” warehouse robots developed by startups use two-finger or three-finger grippers or grippers. empty.

Musk said Friday night was the first time the first robot had taken the stage untethered. Tesla’s goal, he said, is to manufacture an “extremely capable” robot in large volumes – possibly millions of them – at a cost that could be less than that of a car, which he assumed to be less than $20,000.

Tesla showed video of the robot, which uses the artificial intelligence Tesla is testing in its “Full Self-Driving” vehicles, carrying boxes and placing a metal bar into what appeared to be a factory machine. But there was no live demonstration of the robot performing the tasks.

Employees told crowds in Palo Alto, Calif., as well as those watching live, that they had been working on Optimus for six to eight months. People can probably buy an Optimus “within three to five years,” Musk said.

Employees said the Optimus robots would have four fingers and a thumb with a tendon-like system so they could have the dexterity of humans.

The robot is supported by giant artificial intelligence computers that track millions of video images of “Full Self-Driving” cars. Similar computers would be used to teach robots tasks, they said.

Experts in the field of robotics were skeptical that Tesla is about to roll out legions of human-like household robots that can do the ‘useful things’ Musk wants them to do – for example , cooking dinner, mowing the lawn, watching over an aging grandmother.

“When you’re trying to develop a robot that’s both affordable and useful, a humanoid-like shape and size isn’t necessarily the best fit,” said Tom Ryden, executive director of nonprofit startup incubator Mass. Robotics.

Tesla isn’t the first automaker to experiment with humanoid robots.

Honda unveiled the Asimo more than two decades ago, which looked like a life-size spacesuit and was shown in a carefully orchestrated demonstration of being able to pour liquid into a cup. Hyundai also has a collection of humanoid and animal-like robots thanks to its 2021 acquisition of robotics company Boston Dynamics. Ford has partnered with Oregon startup Agility Robotics, which makes two-legged, two-armed robots that can walk and lift packages.

Ryden said automakers’ research into humanoid robotics has the potential to lead to machines that can walk, climb and leap over obstacles, but impressive demos from the past haven’t led to a “real-world use case.” “lived up to the hype.

“There’s a lot of learning they take from understanding how humanoids work,” he said. “But in terms of having a humanoid directly as a product, I’m not sure that’s coming out any time soon.”

Critics also said years ago that Musk and Tesla wouldn’t be able to create a profitable new car company using batteries instead of gasoline.

Tesla tests “Full Self-Driving” vehicles on public roads, but they must be supervised by selected owners who must be ready to intervene at all times. The company says it has around 160,000 vehicles equipped with the test software on the road today.

Critics said the Teslas, which rely on cameras and powerful computers to drive themselves, don’t have enough sensors to drive safely. Tesla’s less capable Autopilot driver assistance system, with the same camera sensors, is being investigated by US safety authorities for wanton braking and repeatedly hitting emergency vehicles with flashing lights parked along highways.

In 2019, Musk promised that a fleet of autonomous robotaxis would be in use by the end of 2020. They are still being tested.

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