Tesla robot slowly walks on stage at AI Day

Washington, DC

Tesla revealed on Friday a prototype of a humanoid robot that it says could be a future product for the automaker.

The robot, dubbed Optimus by Tesla, walked stiffly on stage at Tesla’s AI Day, slowly waved at the crowed and gestured with its hands for roughly one minute. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the robot was operating without a tether for the first time. Robotics developers often use tethers to support robots because they aren’t capable enough to walk without falling and damaging themselves.

The Optimus’ abilities appear to significantly trail what robots from competitors like Hyundai-owned Boston Dynamics are capable of. Boston Dynamics robots have been seen doing back flips and performing sophisticated dance routines without a tether.

Tesla plans to use its AI expertise to develop a humanoid robot.

“The robot can actually do a lot more than we just showed you,” Musk said at the event. “We just didn’t want it to fall on its face.”

Tesla also showed videos of its robot performing simple tasks like carrying boxes and watering plants with a watering can.

Musk claimed that if the robot was produced in mass volumes it would “probably” cost less than $20,000. Tesla maintains that Optimus’ advantage over competitors will be its ability to navigate independently using technology developed from Tesla’s driver-assistance system “Full Self Driving,” as well as cost savings from what it has learned about manufacturing from its automotive division. (Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” requires a human that is alert and attentive, ready to take over at any time, as it is not yet capable of fully driving itself.)

Tesla has a history of aggressive price targets that it doesn’t ultimately reach. The Tesla Model 3 was long promised as a $35,000 vehicle, but could only very briefly be purchased for that price, and not directly on its website. The most affordable Tesla Model 3 now costs $46,990. When Tesla revealed the Cybertruck in 2019, its pick-up truck that remains unavailable for purchase today, it was said to cost $39,990, but the price has since been removed from Tesla’s website.

Tesla AI Day is intended largely as a recruiting event to attract talented people to join the company.

Musk claims the robot could be transformative for civilization. The robot displayed Friday, despite its limitations compared to competitors, was significantly ahead of what Tesla revealed a year ago, when a person jumped on stage in a robot suit and danced around.

“’Last year was just a person in a robot suit,” Musk said before the robot walked on stage. “We’ve come a long way. Compared to that, it’s going to be very impressive.”

Tesla is not the first automaker to develop a humanoid robot. Along with Hyundai’s Boston Dynamics, Honda worked on robots dubbed “Asimo” for nearly 20 years. In its final form, Asimo was a child-size humanoid robot capable of untethered walking, running, climbing and descending stairs, and manipulating objects with its fingers.