Mr Musk first set out the vision for the robot, called Optimus, just over a year ago on Tesla’s very first AI day. At that moment, a dancer in a costume appeared on stage. This time, Mr. Musk presented a prototype at the meeting held late Friday in Palo Alto, California.
The early prototype, still showing wires, took a few steps, waved to the crowd and performed some basic dance moves.
Mr. Musk joked that the robot could do a lot more, but limited its activity for fear it could fall on its face. The robot’s appearance on stage marked the first time it had worked without a chain, Musk said.
“Our goal is to create a usable humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” he said, with the ambition to be able to make them at high volume and at low cost. “It is expected to cost much less than a car,” he said, priced below $20,000. Once ordered, customers should be able to receive the robot within three to five years, Mr. Musk said. It’s not for sale yet.
He later showed off a non-functioning, slimmer model that he said was closer to the production version.
“There is still a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus,” he said, saying the concept could evolve over time. “It won’t be boring.”
The battery-powered robot should be able to handle tough jobs, Tesla said, including lifting a half-ton, 9-foot concert grand piano. Mr. Musk added that it would have conversation capabilities and security features to prevent misbehavior by the machine.
“I’m a big believer in AI security,” said Mr. Musk, who previously… expressed concern about how such technology can be used. He said he believes there should be a government-level regulatory authority.
The Tesla boss painted a vision of Optimus as helping Tesla make cars more efficient, starting with simple tasks and then more extensive use. He has also suggested that the robot could fulfill broader functions and potentially alleviate labor shortages.
“It will, I think, turn the whole idea of what an economy is upside down to the point where you don’t have a labor shortage,” Mr. Musk said at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting on Aug. 4. On Friday, he added, “It’s really a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”
When he first unveiled the Optimus concept, Mr. Musk said that such a robot could have such an impact on the labor market that it could be necessary to provide a universal basic income, or a grant to people. without obligations.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
What do you think of the Tesla robot? Join the conversation below.
Tesla also has encountered problems with automation. Early attempts to rely heavily on automated tools to scale vehicle production met with setbacks and the company had to rely on factory workers more than planned. Mr. Musk later tweeted, “Yes, over-automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be exact, my mistake. People are underestimated.”
One of the big questions surrounding Tesla’s humanoid robot is its central purpose, said Chris Atkeson, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. If Tesla’s main goal is to improve production, a quadruped would probably have been easier to build than a humanoid robot, in part because extra legs make it easier to balance, he said.
Mr. Musk, who has been instrumental in popularizing electric vehicles and Pioneered Landing Missile Boosters with his company SpaceX, he also has a record of making bold predictions that don’t come true right away. Three years ago, at an automation event, he predicted that more than a million Tesla vehicles could work without driver by mid-2020, positioning the company to launch a robotic taxi service. That didn’t happen.
Mr. Musk has said for some time that Tesla wanted to be more than just a car company and echoed that message on Friday. He called the company “a series of startups.”
Mr. Musk called the latest event, like last year’s, aimed at recruiting engineers in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics and chips.
Tesla has long been committed to automation to keep the company ahead of the competition. The company’s cars are equipped with an advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot, which assists drivers with tasks such as maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles on the road and staying in the center of a lane.
Tesla engineers have detailed some of the AI work the company does, including to support driver assistance technology. Mr. Musk said the company’s development of a powerful AI-focused computer could enable Tesla to offer its computing power as a service to others, not unlike the cloud computing offerings offered by companies like Amazon.com Inc.
The company is developing and selling an improved version of Autopilot that brings more automated driving to cities. Tesla calls the system Full Self-Driving, or FSD, although it doesn’t really make vehicles autonomous and tells drivers to keep their hands on the wheel while driving the car.
Tesla said Friday it now has 160,000 customers with the software. Mr. Musk said the rollout of the technology outside the US and Canada is subject to regulatory approval, although it should be technologically feasible by the end of the year.
Tesla has steadily increased the price of FSD, which now sells for $15,000. AI is at the heart of Tesla’s efforts to develop more advanced driver assistance features and ultimately fully autonomous vehicles.
Tesla said the software used to take on more driving functions also underpins the humanoid robot’s activities.
Tesla’s pursuit of automation is increasingly under scrutiny. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates vehicle safety, opened a probe in Autopilot last year after a series of crashes involving Teslas hitting first responder vehicles stopped for emergencies on the road.
Two US senators have also asked the Federal Trade Commission to: investigating whether Tesla has been deceitful in Autopilot and FSD marketing.
The electric car maker has long said that driving with Autopilot engaged is safer than without. Tesla points to internal data showing that crashes were less frequent when drivers used Autopilot, although some researchers have criticized the company’s methodology.
Write to Meghan Bobrowsky at Meghan.Bobrowsky@wsj.com and Rebecca Elliott at email@example.com
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8