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Tesla’s robot waves, but still can’t walk. Musk plans to make millions of them

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk showed off a prototype of his humanoid robot ‘Optimus’ on Friday, predicting the electric vehicle maker could produce millions and sell them for less than $20,000, less than a third of the price. of a Model Y. .

Musk said he expected Tesla to be ready to take orders for the robot in three to five years, describing an effort to develop the product over a decade or more, the most detailed look he has provided to date on a business he said could be larger than Tesla’s electric vehicle revenue.

Tesla’s drive to design and build mass-market robots that would also be tested on jobs in its factories sets it apart from other manufacturers that have experimented with humanoid robots.

The long-awaited unveiling of robot prototypes at Tesla’s office in Palo Alto, California, was also part of what Musk described as an effort for Tesla to be seen as a leader in fields like artificial intelligence, not just a company. which makes “cool cars”.

An experimental test robot that Tesla said was developed in February went out to greet crowds on Friday, and Tesla showed video of it performing simple tasks, such as watering plants, loading boxes and lifting metal bars at a production station in the company’s California plans.

But a more streamlined current one, which Musk said was closer to what he expected to put into production, had to be deployed on a platform and made a slow wave to the crowd. Musk called him Optimus and said that he would be able to walk in a few weeks.

“There’s still a lot of work to do to refine Optimus and test it,” Musk said, later adding, “I think Optimus is going to be amazing in five or 10 years, like mind-blowing.”

He said existing humanoid robots “lack a brain” and the ability to solve problems on their own. Instead, he said, Optimus would be an “extremely capable robot” that Tesla would try to produce by the millions.

Other automakers, including Toyota Motor and Honda Motor, have developed prototype humanoid robots capable of doing complicated things like throwing a basketball, and production robots from ABB and others are a mainstay of car manufacturing.

But Tesla is alone in pushing the market opportunity for a mass-market robot that could also be used in factory work.

The next-generation Tesla robot will use Tesla-designed components, including a 2.3 kWh battery pack that it wears on its torso, an on-chip system, and actuators to power its limbs. The robot is designed to weigh 73 kg.

Tesla engineers, who like Musk wore black T-shirts with a picture of heart-shaped metallic robotic hands, described how they developed the robot’s features, including in areas such as finger movement, with a focus on reducing cost. lower production.

“We’re trying to pursue the goal of the fastest path to a useful robot that can be manufactured in volume,” Musk said.

By developing a robotics business, Musk said, Tesla is changing the terms of a well-known mission statement that has become part of its appeal to investors and climate activists by pledging to “accelerate the global transition to sustainable energy.”

“Optimus is not directly in line with accelerating sustainable energy,” Musk said. “I think the mission expands a little bit with the arrival of Optimus to, you know, I don’t know: make the future amazing.”

Musk has described the event as aimed at recruiting workers, and engineers on stage attended a technical audience. They detailed the process by which Tesla designed robotic hands and used crash simulator technology to test the robot’s ability to fall flat on its face without breaking.

Musk, who has spoken before about the risks of artificial intelligence, said the massive deployment of robots had the potential to “transform civilization” and create “a future of abundance, a future without poverty.” But he said he believed it was important for Tesla shareholders to have a role in investigating the company’s efforts.

“If I go crazy, I can get fired,” Musk said. “This is important.”

Many reactions on Twitter were positive, focusing on the speed of Tesla’s development effort since August last year, when Tesla announced its project with a stunt in which a person in a white suit simulated a humanoid robot.

Henri Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University, said Musk’s price target of $20,000 was a “good proposition” as current costs are around $100,000 for humanoid robots.

“There is some discrepancy between the ambition and what they have presented,” he said. “When it comes to dexterity, speed, the ability to walk steadily, etc., there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Aaron Johnson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, also said the need for the robot was debatable.

“What’s really impressive is that they got to that level so quickly. What’s still a bit murky is what exactly is the use case for them to make millions of these,” Johnson said.

Tesla also discussed its self-driving technology at the event. Engineers working on automated self-driving software described how they trained the software to choose actions, such as when to merge into traffic, and how they sped up the computer’s decision-making process.

In May, Musk said the world’s most valuable automaker would be “worth basically zero” without achieving full autonomous driving capability, and faces mounting regulatory investigations as well as technological hurdles.

Musk said on Friday that beta tests of Tesla’s full self-driving capability will be “technically” ready for a global launch in late 2022, but regulations pose hurdles.

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