Elon Musk shows off a robot that can ‘raise the roof.’ And for now, that’s about all

Elon Musk wants autonomous androids to take over factory jobs from humans.

But on Friday night, the most they could do was carefully walk across the stage and “raise the roof”.

The Tesla CEO unveiled his much-anticipated Optimus robot prototype at the company’s annual AI Day, showcasing his efforts in artificial intelligence and robotics. Musk has billed it as a recruiting event to attract talent.

Before the robot appeared, Musk warned against expecting too much. But he said the latest Optimus iteration would represent a step up from last year’s event, when a dancing human in a skin-tight suit took the stage dressed as Optimus.

He was right about that. Despite having Hollywood looks (C-3P0 meets Terminator), the Optimus showed off some features that haven’t appeared on models from other companies in years past that YouTube viewers have already seen: the robot that looks like a dog, the Humanoid, the cute Honda robot working in the warehouse, whose roots go back to the 1980s.

Tesla first showed the Bumble C, a bare prototype with visible wiring, walking slowly to the front of the stage, waving, gesturing to raise the roof, then carefully backing away. Musk said it’s the first time the robot has operated without a tether. The company showed videos of it completing more complicated tasks, such as B. lifting a box from a shelf, picking up a watering can and watering plants.

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The Bumble C was followed by Optimus, version one, which has fewer exposed parts and a silver torso. After being wheeled in front of the stage by three Tesla employees, it waved and was pushed aside. Musk said the robot is being tested internally at Tesla’s car factory to see “how useful” it is.

“Optimus has a potential economic performance improvement of maybe two orders of magnitude in my view,” he said. “It’s not clear where the limit actually is.”

Musk said the Optimus bots would eventually be produced in the millions and cost less than $20,000 each. He added that Optimus’ performance would be more impressive in a few weeks.

“We want to have really fun versions of Optimus,” Musk said. “Optimus can be useful as well as get things done, but also be something of a friend and sidekick and hang out with you.”

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But Musk’s promises haven’t always been fulfilled, on matters ranging from the introduction of fully self-driving technology to proposed tunnels to solve traffic. Notoriously late with deadlines, he once told an audience at a demonstration that the glass on the Tesla cybertruck prototype was shatterproof before it shattered on stage.

Musk first discussed the Tesla Bot at AI Day last year, saying the android would stand about 5ft 8 tall, weigh 125lbs and have a carrying capacity of 45lbs. He claimed that the robots, using the same autonomous driving systems as the company’s vehicles, would eventually be able to go to the store to buy a set list of groceries.

“Physical work will be a choice going forward,” he said at the time. “If you want it, you can. But you don’t have to do it.” He didn’t offer a schedule.

In a way, Musk’s view of the future borrows from 1950s sci-fi imaginations: humanoid robots that act at will, colonies on Mars, and high-speed transportation through underground pneumatic tubes. Is that a realistic idea of ​​what could happen?

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“In a way, it’s a throwback to what people envisioned in the 1950s,” said Martin Ford, futurist and author of Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything. “It could be a vision fulfilled, albeit not in the way he presents it and not within an immediate time frame.”

It’s not hard to imagine factories like Tesla’s auto plant becoming fully automated at some point in the future, Ford said. It’s just unlikely that they’ll be staffed with humanoid robots that walk and behave like humans, rather than specialized ones Robots that are attached to the floor and designed for a specific task.

Automation is already a big part of car manufacturing, with large industrial robots handling tasks like door seating and lifting. But live-streamed prime-time productions about it are unusual.

“There’s an emotional attraction to humans when you see a robot that looks like a human,” said Ford. “There may be some specific applications. But that’s not the case for the most part — certainly not in factories.”

Times editor Russ Mitchell contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.