Tesla will demonstrate an early prototype of the Optimus humanoid robot at its AI Day 2022 on September 30
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other executives from the automaker’s AI and hardware teams spoke at the company’s 2022 AI Day, an engineering recruiting event in Palo Alto, California, on Friday night.
During the last AI Day in August 2021, Musk said that Tesla was building a humanoid robot, known as the Tesla Bot or Optimus. The company didn’t have so much as a prototype to show at the time, and instead presented a dancer dressed in a Tesla Bot spandex unitard on stage.
This year, Musk and Tesla employees who joined him on stage showed off a bipedal humanoid robot that they said was only a “rough development robot” that walked and waved its hands in the air. They said the robot walked around for the first time without any mechanical support on stage in Palo Alto.
To warm up the crowd, which included Tesla-focused social media influencers, Musk said, “We’re going to talk about the advances in AI for full self-driving, as well as how they apply more generally to real-world AI problems like a humanoid robot and even beyond. I think there’s some potential for what we’re doing here at Tesla to make a meaningful contribution to AGI [artificial general intelligence].”
He continued, “And I actually think Tesla is a good entity to do that from a management standpoint because we’re a publicly traded company with one class of stock. That means the public controls Tesla, and I think that actually is a good thing. So if I go crazy, you can fire me—that’s important. Maybe I’m not crazy.”
Elon Musk previously helped found (and later stopped) an artificial intelligence venture called OpenAI. In 2015, OpenAI boasted that it had trained neural networks to enable a human-like robotic hand to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle.
When Musk originally launched the Tesla Bot concept on AI Day 2021, he said: “It should be able to, ‘please go to the store and get me the following groceries,’ that sort of thing.” Later, Musk said that robots made by Tesla could one day be worth more than his cars, and that thousands of them would be put to work in Tesla factories, where people build cars and batteries.
During Friday’s presentation, Tesla employees showed how the humanoid robot they are developing might work in the future, including with Tesla-designed actuators that are like the robot’s muscle and adaptive robotic hands that will allow the robot to grasp and manipulate a wide range of objects.
Milan Kovac, who is director of autopilot engineering at Tesla, according to his LinkedIn profile, said the company’s experience developing driver assistance systems for Tesla vehicles, particularly computer vision systems, helped the company figure out how to get a humanoid robot to to function in the real world.
While robotics experts have said that Tesla does not require a bipedal robot to make better automation work in its factories, Tesla employees spoke at length about their dedication to the human form. Employees also said they were working on a special battery and actuators for their robots to keep power consumption to a minimum so their robot could work a full day on a single charge.
Tesla Autopilot employees also talked a lot about their quest to make Tesla cars autonomous without adding any new hardware to them.
In its 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 markers will identify things like road boundaries, lane markings, or overlapping objects, such as a pedestrian blocking the full view of a stop sign.
The labeled clips serve to train Tesla’s neural networks and improve driver assistance systems that allow their cars to navigate around and automatically avoid obstacles with the driver’s supervision.
Now Tesla says it has developed auto-tagging technology that allows the company to chew through half a million clips every day. Ultimately, a human comes in to “finish” labels, but they have a boost from the auto-labeling system.
The presenters also discussed in great detail how many improvements they made to Tesla-designed chips and data infrastructure. They did not say when a self-driving car that is safe to use without a human driver behind the wheel in normal traffic would be available to paying customers.
Tesla will show off a prototype of its humanoid robot at AI Day 2022 on September 30.
Musk explained that Tesla held this AI Day event and showed off its robot prototype “to convince some of the most talented people in the world like you to join Tesla and help make it happen.”
The CEO believes the humanoid robot “can help millions of people,” he said, because if it works, the world will have what he called “a future of abundance, a future where there is no poverty, where people you can get whatever you have. wants in terms of products and services.”
In his characteristically grandiose fashion, Musk said, “It’s really a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”
After the CEO left the stage, but while the AI Day presentation was still going on, 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 was not entirely in line with Tesla’s mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. He said Optimus expands Tesla’s mission to “make the future great.”
He said he believes that in 3 to 5 years customers will be able to buy an Optimus.
One attendee asked Musk if he envisioned Tesla selling its Dojo supercomputer, which it uses for AI machine learning, 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 you can use that’s available online where you can train your models much faster and for less money.”
When Musk makes big promises, skeptics scoff and his loyal fans swoon.
The well-known CEO has promised self-driving electric vehicles since 2016 and 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 axes with just a software update.
While Musk said a coast-to-coast driverless demo would happen by the end of 2017, to date Tesla has only released driver assistance systems that must be constantly monitored by a human driver.
Marketed as Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, FSD (short for Full Self-Driving capability) and FSD Beta in the US, Tesla’s driver assistance systems have drawn federal and state safety probes and allegations of false advertising, including by the California DMV and a number of its own customers .
Tesla also has a rocky record with automation in its factories. In 2018, after trying to automate various aspects of vehicle production and quality assurance, Musk admitted “excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake” and “people are undervalued.”
Tesla is expected to release its third-quarter vehicle production and deliveries report within days of the recruiting event. Deliveries are the closest approximation for sales disclosed by Tesla, and the quarterly delivery reports are closely watched by shareholders.