Kasturi previews Tesla’s humanoid robot, but warns it’s not ready yet

Kasturi previews Tesla's humanoid robot, but warns it's not ready yet
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SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Tesla (TSLA.O) CEO Elon Musk showed off a prototype of the humanoid robot ‘Optimus’ on Friday, predicting the electric vehicle maker will be able to produce millions of them and sell them for under $20,000 – less than a third of the price of a Model Y.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and prove it,” Musk said at the electric vehicle maker’s “AI Day” event held at Tesla’s offices in Palo Alto, California, where the robot was on display.

A prototype model that Tesla said was built in February went out to wave to crowds on Friday, and Tesla showed a video of it doing simple tasks, such as watering plants, carrying boxes and lifting metal bars at one of the company’s California production stations.

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The team rolled out the more streamlined current-generation bot on a cart, and Musk said he hoped it would soon be able to walk itself.

Existing humanoid robots, he said, “have lost brains” — and the ability to solve problems on their own. By contrast, he said, Optimus will be a “highly capable robot” that Tesla will aim to produce in the millions. He said he expected it to cost less than $20,000.

Musk and Tesla representatives acknowledged that much work needs to be done to achieve the goal of a mass-produced, low-cost robot using Tesla-designed technology that would be able to replace humans in the workplace.

Other automakers including Toyota Motor (7203.T) and Honda engines (7267.T)Humanoid robots capable of doing complex things like shooting a basketball have built prototypes, and robots from ABB and others are a mainstay of auto manufacturing.

But Tesla alone pushes the market opportunity for a mass-market robot that can also be used for factory work.

A next-generation Tesla bot, which was rolled on stage by staff, will use Tesla-designed components, including a 2.3-kilowatt battery pack carried in its torso, a chip system and actuators to drive its limbs. The robot is designed for a weight of 73 kg.

“It wasn’t quite ready to walk. But I think it will walk in a few weeks,” Musk said.

Musk described the event as recruiting, and the engineers on stage catered to the tech audience. They detailed the process by which Tesla designed the robot arm and used crash-simulator technology to test the robot’s ability to fall on its face without collapsing.

Musk, who has previously spoken about the risks of artificial intelligence, said the mass rollout of robots has the potential to “transform civilization” and create “a future of abundance, a future without poverty.” But he said he believed the role of Tesla shareholders was important in validating the company’s efforts.

“If I go crazy, you can fire me,” Musk said. “It’s important.”

Much of the reaction on Twitter was positive, focusing on the pace of Tesla’s development efforts since August of last year, when Tesla announced its project with a stunt in which a man in a white suit imitated a humanoid robot.

Arizona State University robotics professor Henry Ben Amour said the mask’s $20,000 price tag was a “good proposition,” given that current costs are about $100,000 for humanoid robots.

“There is some difference between the type of desire and what they presented,” he said. “When it comes to skill speed, the ability to walk in a stable fashion and more, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Aaron Johnson, a mechanical engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, also said there is debate over the need for robots.

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

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

In May, Musk said the world’s most valuable carmaker would be “worth essentially zero” without achieving full self-driving capabilities, and that it would face increasing regulatory scrutiny as well as technological hurdles.

Musk said he expects Tesla to achieve full self-driving this year and build a robotaxy without a steering wheel or pedals by 2024.

At an “autonomous” event in 2019, Musk promised 1 million Robotaxis by 2020 but has yet to deliver such a vehicle.

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Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Written by Muralikumar Anantharaman; Editing by Peter Henderson and Daniel Wallis

Our values: Thomson Reuters Trust Policy.

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