Let's not mock the Tesla robot just yet

Tesla robot
(Image credit: Tesla)

Anyone scared that robots will take over the world can take solace in the fact the newly revealed Tesla robot looks quite easy to knock over – at least for now. Elon Musk finally unveiled the Tesla robot at the company's AI Day event, and the internet has been quick to make fun of the unstable-looking humanoid. But we may still eat our words.

Tesla's robot is called Optimus. Yes, like Optimus Prime, and no, it doesn't transform, sadly. But it can wave, walk (just about) and dance (conservatively). But before we mock, we should remember that this prototype for the AI-powered robot was made in barely a year, and while Optimus doesn't look steady on its feet, it's pretty nifty with a watering can, as Musk shows in the video below (meanwhile, to see how AI is  revolutionising art and design, see our guide to how to use DALL-E 2).

For many, Optimus watering plants will conjure up C-3PO, Marvin the Paranoid Android or Kryten from Red Dwarf. Optimus takes very tentative steps for now, but Musk revealed that Tesla plans to eventually produce "millions" of them. They'll initially be intended for employment on production lines – yes, Optimus is out for the last remaining factory jobs – but may eventually make it to household use for anything from cleaning to cooking. At least that's the plan. How much will the Tesla robot cost. Musks says probably "less than $20,000".

Tesla's CEO revealed two versions of Optimus at the event on Friday. A deconstructed prototype that bust some moves, and then a "close to production" version that "isn't quite ready to walk". Musk said of the former that is was first time it had walked untethered. It seems unlikely that Musk would take that risk at such a public event, but he did seem to mean it when he said he hoped Optimus didn't "fall flat on its face". 

Twitter was quick to poke fun. "He's walking like he doesn't want to wake you since he's been out all night driving your Tesla and hanging out with his robot pals," one observer commented. "Tesla's robot waves but can't walk, yet. What could possibly go wrong?" someone asked.

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There's also been a lot of comparison with Boston Dynamics robots, which on the face of it would appear to be much more advanced. But there's a difference in what's going on behind the surface. BD’s bots run fixed routines, but Tesla's will run via AI. It may still be able to take over the world and enslave us despite its current weak appearance. After all, Tesla only got started last year.

@calishands wrote on Twitter: "Tesla are following physics first principles to do a lean design. The hard part isn't the robot it's the scalability, pricing, and brain (AI). With iteration, Tesla will not only overtake the competition but will dominate the market.

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What can the Tesla robot do?

The Tesla robot, Optimus, is designed to perform manual tasks like lifting boxes and putting things in place. The idea is that they will be produced to work on factory production lines.

How does the Tesla robot work? It has a 2.3kWh battery pack, runs on a Tesla SoC and has the Autopilot software from Tesla's vehicles. Optimus has 28 structural actuators and Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity. Its hands are human-like, with "11-degrees of freedom" and "Biologically Inspired Design" intended to enable them to pick up different sized and shaped objects with a precise grip. 

Musk says that Optimus will be ready for production as soon as next year, though we'll take that with a grain of salt. In the meantime, one thing we can and will continue to mock is the Tesla logo for its hilarious unintended resemblance to something very different.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.