early prototype of Tesla Corporation The human-like robot, Optimus, walked slowly and awkwardly on stage, turned around, and waved to a cheering crowd at the company’s artificial intelligence event on Friday.
But the robot’s primary tasks with exposed wires and electronics — plus a newer, next-gen version that should have been carried by three men on stage — were a far cry from the CEO. Elon Musk Seeing a human-like robot that can change the world.
Musk told the audience, many of whom may be employed by Tesla, that the robot could do much more than what the public saw on Friday. She’s also sensitive, he said, and “we didn’t want her to fall on her face.”
Musk suggested the problem with flashy robotics displays is that the robots “miss a brain” and don’t have the intelligence to orient themselves, but he offered little evidence Friday that Optimus was smarter than robots developed by other companies and researchers.
The demo did not impress AI researcher Philip Beknevsky, who tweeted that it was “next level worthy” and “a complete and utter scam.” He said it would be “nice to fall test, because this thing is going to fall a lot.”
“None of this is the latest in science,” said robotics expert Cynthia Young, on Twitter. “Hire some PhDs and go to some robotics conference at Tesla.”
Yeung also questioned why Tesla chose its robot to have a human-like hand with five fingers, noting “there is a reason” to use warehouse bots developed by startups via a two- or three-finger pinch.
Musk said Friday night was the first time the early robot walked on stage without a rope. He said Tesla’s goal is to make an “extremely capable” robot of large sizes — perhaps millions of them — at a cost that could be less than a car, which he guessed would be less than $20,000.
Tesla showed off a video of the robot, which uses artificial intelligence that Tesla is testing in its “fully self-driving” cars, carrying crates and placing a metal rod in what appears to be a factory machine. But there was no live demonstration of the robot completing the tasks.
Employees told the crowd in Palo Alto, California, as well as those watching via livestream, that they had been working on Optimus for six to eight months. Musk said people could probably buy Optimus “within three to five years.”
The staff said the Optimus robots would have four fingers and a thumb with a string-like system so they could master the skill of humans.
The robot is powered by artificial intelligence supercomputers that track millions of video frames from “fully self-driving” cars. They said similar computers would be used to teach robots tasks.
Robotics experts were skeptical that Tesla was anywhere close to rolling out hordes of human-like home robots that could do the “helpful things” Musk wanted them to do — for example, make dinner, mow the lawn, old grandma.
“When you’re trying to develop a useful and affordable robot, human shape and size isn’t necessarily the best way,” said Tom Raiden, CEO of nonprofit startup incubator Mass Robotics.
Tesla isn’t the first car company to test humanoid robots.
More than two decades ago Honda unveiled the Asimo, which resembled a life-size spacesuit and appeared in a carefully curated display to be able to pour liquid into the cup. Hyundai also has a family of robots that resemble humans and animals through its 2021 acquisition of robotics company Boston Dynamics. Ford has partnered with Oregon-based startup Agility Robotics, which makes robots with two feet and two arms that can walk and lift beams.
Ryden said that automakers’ research into humanoid robots could lead to machines that can walk, climb and navigate obstacles, but exciting demos of the past have not led to an “actual use scenario” that lives up to the hype.
“There’s a lot of learning they get from understanding the way humans work,” he said. “But in terms of having a human directly as a product, I’m not sure this is coming out any time soon.”
Critics also said years ago that Musk and Tesla would not be able to build a profitable new car company that used batteries for power instead of gasoline.
Tesla is testing “fully self-driving” vehicles on public roads, but they must be monitored by select owners who must be prepared to step in at all times. The company says it has about 160,000 vehicles equipped with the test program on the road today.
Critics have said that Teslas cars, which rely on cameras and powerful computers to drive on their own, do not have enough sensors to drive safely. Tesla’s less capable Autopilot driver assistance system, with the same camera sensors, is under investigation by US safety regulators for braking without reason and repeatedly running into emergency vehicles with flashing lights parked along highways.
In 2019, Musk promised that a fleet of bots would be in use by the end of 2020. They are still being tested.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that patients don’t mind receiving care from a Boston Dynamics robot dog attached to a tablet, in a video call with a human doctor. The study’s author tells LX News how the experiment went.
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