Elon Musk unveils $20,000 Optimus robot at AI event

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(Photo: Tesla)
When Elon Musk first boasted about Tesla’s upcoming humanoid robot at AI Day 2021, details were fairly limited. We knew Optimus’ basic specs (height, weight, carrying capacity, etc.) but very little about its internals, and its stated purpose was to perform “dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks.” Now we have some more information—plus the first look at the actual Optimus, versus a 3D model or a guy in a suit.

Musk unveiled Optimus on AI Day 2022 on Friday. “I want to set some expectations about our Optimus robot,” he said. “You know, last year there was only one person in a robot suit. We’ve come a long way…compared to that, it’s going to be really impressive.” That’s a pretty big deal, considering Musk was already pretty optimistic about the robot’s potential last year. He also said he thinks Optimus “will make a meaningful contribution to AGI. can,” or artificial general intelligence: a type of AI that has the flexibility and problem-solving abilities of human cognition. (Quite a statement from someone who claims to be an expectant moron, but we’re talking about Elon Musk here.)

Even more surprising is that AI Day 2022 was Optimus’ first time walking around with zero physical support. “This is actually the first time we’ve tried this robot without any backup support,” warned a Tesla engineer. Luckily Optimus did just fine: the robot walked the stage, waved and “raised the roof” without a hitch.

(Photo: Tesla)

Aside from its sleek and shiny exterior, Optimus looks like any other electromechanical humanoid. Its metal limbs are surrounded by a helix of wire that is attached to the torso, where Tesla uses the same visual processing system for its vehicles. (Musk didn’t say what the bot’s limbs are made of, but based on previous statements about the appearance and use of “lightweight materials,” it could be aluminum.) According to Tesla engineers, the bot’s 2.3 kWh 52V battery pack can power “about a full day of work” on a single charge. Optimus’ “muscles” have a total of 28 custom structural actuators. The arm alone has six cable-operated actuators that provide 11 degrees of freedom, allowing its metal phalanges to grip and use small tools.

But outside of the lab, how useful is Optimus really? Tesla’s robot can lift and carry objects as heavy as 20 pounds, water plants, and work on an assembly line—the latter of which was a key factor in the robot’s development. Musk said Optimus is designed to participate in production (among other things) and will be produced at scale, with a market price of under $20,000 per unit. If the robot’s potential is really as promising as Musk makes it sound, the fact that it’s significantly cheaper than Tesla’s cars could be a game-changer. But soon it will not supplement human labor; Musk estimates that Optimus won’t be available for purchase for at least another three to five years.

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