Elon Musk’s New Humanoid Robot Might One Day Buy Your Groceries

For now, though, it simply walks, dances and waves

A robot stands on stage
Tesla's Optimus robot prototype AI Day 2022 screenshot

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the company’s new humanoid robot dubbed “Optimus” at the 2022 AI Day on Friday. The prototype, which he says is a “rough development robot,” was put together in six months. It walked slowly onto the stage, waved to the crowd and danced.

“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk told the audience. “There’s still a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and prove it.” 

This was the first time the robot walked by itself without an extra support to keep it from falling, he explained, adding that it could do more complex tasks than what was demonstrated on the stage. He then showed the audience videos of it watering a plant, carrying boxes and moving metal bars while it was tethered.

The company then wheeled a second prototype out onto the stage. It had a Tesla-designed battery pack, control system and actuators, but it “wasn’t quite ready to walk,” Musk said. With a sleeker appearance, this prototype was closer to how the finished product would look. 

Optimus will use the same AI that Tesla software engineers created for the company’s cars, which have an AI-powered driver assistance system, writes Stephen Shankland for CNET. Instead of training the robot’s AI with driving videos, they’ll train it in the real world.

Ultimately, Musk said, he hopes these robots can be used to assist in day-to-day tasks. He plans for them to be tested by working in his Tesla factories and one day run errands for human buyers, such as picking up groceries.

Other companies have developed humanoid robots, including Boston Dynamics’ Atlas, which can dexterously maneuver through a parkour course, doing jumps and backflips. 

Musk says that while those other robots are impressive, they lack the ability to make decisions for themselves, are costly and are made in low volumes. He plans to develop Optimus as an autonomous robot for mass production, with the goal of selling them for less than $20,000.

When Tesla first demonstrated its design concept for the humanoid robot to an audience at last year’s AI Day, Musk used a human dressed up in a robot costume. While Optimus’s development has come a long way since then, critics say Tesla is still far from being able to sell it. 

“There's some discrepancy between sort of the ambition and what they have presented,” Heni Ben Amor, a robotics expert at Arizona State University, tells Reuters’ Hyunjoo Jin. “When it comes to dexterity, speed, the ability to walk in a stable fashion and so on, there's still a lot of work to be done.”

Based on the AI Day demonstration, Musk has provided little evidence that the robot is actually capable of doing all the tasks he claims it will, critics say. Some have also expressed skepticism about the design. 

“When you’re trying to develop a robot that is both affordable and useful, a humanoid kind of shape and size is not necessarily the best way,” Tom Ryden, executive director of the nonprofit startup incubator MassRobotics, tells Tom Krisher and Matt O’Brien of the Associated Press.  

Musk has a lofty vision for the technology, though, claiming it will be a “fundamental transformation for civilization as we know it.”