Tesla’s Optimus robotic isn’t very spectacular – however it could be an indication of higher issues to return


By Wafa Johal (Senior Lecturer, Computing & Data Methods, The College of Melbourne)

In August 2021, Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduced the electrical automotive producer was planning to get into the robotic enterprise. In a presentation accompanied by a human dressed as a robotic, Musk stated work was starting on a “pleasant” humanoid robotic to “navigate by means of a world constructed for people and get rid of harmful, repetitive and boring duties”.

Musk has now unveiled a prototype of the robotic, known as Optimus, which he hopes to mass-produce and promote for lower than US$20,000 (A$31,000).

On the unveiling, the robotic walked on a flat floor and waved to the gang, and was proven doing easy handbook duties similar to carrying and lifting in a video. As a robotics researcher, I didn’t discover the demonstration very spectacular – however I’m hopeful it should result in larger and higher issues.

Why would we wish humanoid robots?

A lot of the robots used in the present day don’t look something like folks. As an alternative, they’re machines designed to hold out a particular objective, like the economic robots utilized in factories or the robotic vacuum cleaner you might need in your home.

So why would you need one formed like a human? The essential reply is they’d be capable of function in environments designed for people.

Not like industrial robots, humanoid robots would possibly be capable of transfer round and work together with people. Not like robotic vacuum cleaners, they could be capable of go up stairs or traverse uneven terrain.

And in addition to sensible concerns, the thought of “synthetic people” has lengthy had an enchantment for inventors and science-fiction writers!

Room for enchancment

Primarily based on what we noticed within the Tesla presentation, Optimus is a great distance from with the ability to function with people or in human environments. The capabilities of the robotic showcased fall far in need of the cutting-edge in humanoid robotics.

The Atlas robotic made by Boston Dynamics, for instance, can stroll outdoor and perform flips and different acrobatic manoeuvres.

And whereas Atlas is an experimental system, even the commercially obtainable Digit from Agility Robotics is far more succesful than what we’ve seen from Optimus. Digit can stroll on numerous terrains, keep away from obstacles, rebalance itself when bumped, and decide up and put down objects.

Bipedal strolling (on two toes) alone is not an important achievement for a robotic. Certainly, with a bit of data and dedication you may construct such a robotic your self utilizing open supply software program.

There was additionally no signal within the Optimus presentation of the way it will work together with people. This might be important for any robotic that works in human environments: not just for collaborating with people, but additionally for fundamental security.

It may be very difficult for a robotic to perform seemingly easy duties similar to handing an object to a human, however that is one thing we might desire a home humanoid robotic to have the ability to do.

Sceptical customers

Others have tried to construct and promote humanoid robots previously, similar to Honda’s ASIMO and SoftBank’s Pepper. However to this point they’ve by no means actually taken off.

Amazon’s not too long ago launched Astro robotic could make inroads right here, however it could additionally go the way in which of its predecessors.

Shoppers appear to be sceptical of robots. To this point, the one extensively adopted family robots are the Roomba-like vacuum cleaners, which have been obtainable since 2002.

To succeed, a humanoid robotic will want be capable of do one thing people can’t to justify the worth tag. At this stage the use case for Optimus continues to be not very clear.

Hope for the longer term

Regardless of these criticisms, I’m hopeful concerning the Optimus mission. It’s nonetheless within the very early phases, and the presentation appeared to be aimed toward recruiting new workers as a lot as anything.

Tesla definitely has loads of sources to throw on the downside. We all know it has the capability to mass produce the robots if improvement will get that far.

Musk’s knack for gaining consideration may additionally be useful – not just for attracting expertise to the mission, but additionally to drum up curiosity amongst customers.

Robotics is a difficult subject, and it’s troublesome to maneuver quick. I hope Optimus succeeds, each to make one thing cool we are able to use – and to push the sector of robotics ahead.

The Conversation

Wafa Johal receives funding from the Australian Analysis Council.

This text appeared in The Dialog.

The Dialog
is an unbiased supply of stories and views, sourced from the tutorial and analysis group and delivered direct to the general public.

The Dialog
is an unbiased supply of stories and views, sourced from the tutorial and analysis group and delivered direct to the general public.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here