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  • Caspar James - Tech Journalist

Elon Musk unveils the new $20,000 Tesla humanoid Optimus Bot

The Tesla CEO unveiled his futuristic robot to the world at the Tesla AI Day event on 30th September to an eager audience at Tesla’s office in Palo Alto. The robot had been teased to the world at the 2021 event and the image of the Tesla ‘bot’ hinted a year ago was of a human-like being, clad in a white contoured body shell and spandex suit, being worn by a real person for the initial 2021 tease event. Very human in silhouette and a glimpse of the shape of things to come for humanoid robot technology. The Tesla bot was going to look like a human. What was actually unveiled at the 2022 Tesla Live event was far from that futuristic half-man half-robot ‘being’, teased the previous year.

Some AI experts attending the event, were calling out the Optimus bot, with one onlooker tweeting, it’s a ‘complete and utter scam’ and ‘next level cringeworthy’. As it wobbled onto the stage, the audience had their first real glimpse of Tesla’s robot, as it took its first cautious steps forward and then waved. Musk had claimed the bot would “be a fundamental transformation for civilisation as we know it”.

Musk told the audience that this was the first time the bot had walked without a tether. It looked more like a work-in-progress prototype, than the humanoid we’d seen a year earlier. Had Tesla been too hasty to unveil its new creation? The bot did not impress the crowd, although they had applauded and laughed.

The svelte 'being' that had been the star of the 2021 AI event, was now just about standing upright on stage, on the verge of falling over at any moment. Musk joked that he didn't want the bot to do too many actions at this event in case "it fell flat on its face". It was clear this was not in its final production stage. Tesla is planning to sell these bots for under $20,000 each once production gets under way. The livestream audience were then shown clips of the ‘six-months-in-development’ Optimus bot, picking up objects and various other tasks, finishing off by making a heart shape with its hands. Musk had tweeted, “The hands of Optimus. That is not CGI”. The bot is claimed to be able to carry a 9kg bag in one hand.

With WiFi and LTE connectivity, Optimus runs on the same Tesla autopilot technology, found in its cars. This will be a huge step forward with many implications for manufacturing, the service industry, healthcare and domestic life.

At last years event, Elon had said “If you say, what is the economy? At the foundation of labour. So what happens when there is a shortage of labour? Is there any actual limit to the economy? Maybe not”.

Musk tweeted last week, “Note, this event is meant for recruiting AI & robotics engineers, so will be highly technical. As well as advanced chip & supercomputer engineers for next-gen training & inference.”

Seeing the ‘unclothed’ skeletal bot onstage, far from finished externally, with all its working parts on view, was clearly aimed at those with an AI, robotics and engineering background. Musk stated that those “AI/robotics engineers who understand what problems need to be solved will like what they see”.

It is obvious from the prototype of Optimus, that more work needs to be done to fulfil Musk’s ultimate goal of creating a proper working humanoid robot, that would justify the claim to “be a fundamental transformation for civilisation as we know it”. The media and analysts were mildly impressed.

Optimus is intended for industrial and domestic use, the latter catering for its more friendly humanoid look. “Tesla Bots are initially positioned to replace people in repetitive, boring and dangerous tasks. But the vision is for them to serve millions of households, such as cooking, mowing the lawns and caring for the elderly,” Musk stated in an essay published in China Cyberspace magazine.

Musk wants his bots to be as close to a human in size as possible, therefore fitting into our environment and be able to carry out tasks just like a human. The bot’s face will be able to project digital facial expressions on a screen just like a human, in order to communicate. Future plans for the bot will be improving its intelligence and for Tesla to create a production process to be able to produce these bots in large scale production, ultimately in millions of units. Maybe Musk was a bit hasty in unveiling an early version of his Tesla bot, but it is clearly an interesting step forward towards the look and function of our future ‘helpers’ and 'replacements'.


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