Tesla is demonstrating an early prototype of the Optimus humanoid robot at its AI Day 2022 on September 30
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other leaders of the automaker’s AI and hardware teams spoke Friday night at the company’s 2022 AI Day, an engineer recruitment event in Palo Alto, California.
During the final AI Day in August 2021, Musk said Tesla is building a humanoid robot known as the Tesla Bot or Optimus. The company didn’t even have a prototype to show at the time, instead featuring a dancer dressed in a Tesla Bot spandex catsuit on stage.
That year, staffers from Musk and Tesla, who joined him on stage, showed off a bipedal humanoid robot they said was just a “crude development robot” that walked and waved its hands in the air. They said it was the first time the robot had walked around the stage in Palo Alto without mechanical assistance.
To warm up the audience, which included Tesla-focused social media influencers, Musk said: “We’ll talk about the advances in AI for full self-driving and how they apply more generally to real-world AI problems like a humanoid robot and even go beyond. I think there’s some potential that what we’re doing here at Tesla could make a meaningful contribution to AGI [artificial general intelligence].”
He continued, “And I think Tesla is a good company from a governance standpoint because we’re a publicly traded company with a single class of shares. That means the public controls Tesla, and I actually think that’s a good thing. So if I go insane, you can fire me – that’s important. Maybe I’m not crazy.”
Elon Musk previously co-founded (and later quit) an artificial intelligence company called OpenAI. In 2015, OpenAI boasted that it trained neural networks to enable a robotic hand that resembles a human hand to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle.
Back when Musk originally unveiled the Tesla bot concept at AI Day 2021, he said, “It should be able to, ‘Please go to the store and get me the following groceries,’ something like that.” Later Musk said Tesla robots could one day be worth more than his cars, and that thousands of them would work in Tesla factories, where people build cars and batteries.
During Friday’s presentation, Tesla employees showed how the humanoid robot they are developing could function in the future, including features such as Tesla-designed actuators that are like the robot’s muscles and adaptive robotic hands that will enable the robot to grow grab and manipulate a wide range of objects.
Milan Kovac, Tesla’s director of engineering for Autopilot, according to his LinkedIn profile, said the company’s experience in developing driver-assistance systems for Tesla vehicles, particularly computer vision systems, is helping the company figure out how how to make a humanoid robot work in the real world.
While robotics experts said Tesla doesn’t need a two-legged robot to make better automation work in its factories, Tesla employees spoke at length about their devotion to the human form on Friday. The staff also said they are working on a special battery and actuators for their robots to keep power consumption to a minimum so their robot can work for a full day on a single charge.
Tesla Autopilot employees also spoke at length about their quest to make Tesla cars autonomous without adding new hardware to them.
In the past, the company’s Autopilot team relied on manual data annotation to identify and describe objects in short video clips captured by cameras and sensors on Tesla vehicles. Data labelers would identify things like road boundaries, lane markings, or overlapping objects like a pedestrian blocking full view of a stop sign.
The labeled clips are used to train Tesla’s neural networks and improve driver assistance systems that allow their cars to navigate around and avoid obstacles automatically under the driver’s supervision.
Now Tesla says they’ve developed auto-labeling technology that allows the company to chew through half a million clips every day. At the end, a human comes in to “finish” the labels, but they get a boost from the automatic labeling system.
The speakers also discussed at length how many improvements they are making to the chips and data infrastructure developed by Tesla. They haven’t said when a self-driving car, safe to use in normal traffic without a human driver behind the wheel, will be available to paying customers.
Tesla is showing a prototype of its humanoid robot at AI Day 2022 on September 30th.
Musk explained that Tesla held this AI Day event and showcased its robot prototype “to convince some of the most talented people in the world like you to join Tesla and help make it a reality.”
The CEO believes the humanoid robot “can help millions of people,” he said, because if it works, the world will have what he calls “a future of abundance,” a future where there is no poverty, where people can have whatever they want in terms of products and services.”
In his characteristically grandiose way, Musk said, “It’s really a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”
After the CEO left the stage, but still during the AI Day presentation, Musk wrote to his 107.4 million followers on Twitter: “Of course there will be a catgirl version of our Optimus robot.”
During a question-and-answer session, Musk admitted that developing a humanoid robot isn’t exactly in line with Tesla’s mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. He said Optimus is expanding Tesla’s mission to “make the future great.”
He said he thinks that in 3 to 5 years, customers will be able to buy an Optimus.
One participant asked Musk if he envisaged Tesla selling his supercomputer Dojo, which he uses for machine learning with AI, to other companies. Musk said he thinks it makes more sense to offer a dojo service, something like AWS, which he described as “a service that you can use that’s available online where you can train your models a lot faster and for less money.” .
When Musk makes big promises, skeptics and his loyal fans scoff impotently.
The prominent CEO has been promising self-driving electric vehicles since 2016 and has raised billions in capital for Tesla by promising shareholders that Tesla’s autonomous vehicle technology would allow customers to turn their cars into working robotic taxis with just a software update.
While Musk said there would be a coast-to-coast driverless demo by the end of 2017, to date Tesla has only released driver-assistance systems that require constant monitoring by a human driver.
Marketed in the US as Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, FSD (short for Full Self-Driving Capability), and FSD Beta, Tesla’s driver-assistance systems have sparked federal and state safety investigations and allegations of false advertising, including California’s DMV and a number of its own customers.
Tesla also has a rocky record with automation in its factories. In 2018, after attempting to automate various aspects of vehicle production and quality assurance, Musk admitted that “over-automating at Tesla was a mistake” and “people are underestimated.”
Tesla is expected to release its third-quarter production and delivery report within days of the recruitment event. Deliveries are the closest approximation to Tesla’s published sales, and quarterly delivery reports are closely watched by shareholders.