On the occasion of AI Day, an event organized by the electric car company Tesla to recruit new employees, the American entrepreneur Elon Musk showed for the first time to the public two prototypes of the humanoid robots his engineers have been working on for years. Last year, at the same event, a human being dressed as a robot showed up on stage. This year, however, one of the two models presented managed to stand briefly alone and walk slowly, putting one foot in front of the other, while the other was unable to walk, but waved goodbye. the audience, showing the range of motion of the limb, before being swept away.
Musk, who is known for his often unwarranted optimism about the time it takes to develop and produce his companies’ products, has promised that between three and five years Tesla’s humanoid robots will be ready to be sold to the public for less. $ 20,000 each.
For now, the videos featured at AI Day show the Optimus robot performing simple tasks like carrying boxes and watering plants. The artificial intelligence software used to control them is the same that is installed in the electric cars produced by the company. Engineers said the robots will be tested in Tesla’s factories before launching to a mass audience. Their hands, which should have a design that comes as close as possible to that of a human limb, should be able to collect objects of various shapes and sizes, hold large bags and be precise in small movements.
Although the robots shown to the public left something to be desired, Musk spoke of it as a revolutionary invention, saying that Tesla’s robots represent “a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it” and that they will soon reach “a future of abundance, a future where there is no poverty, a future where you can have whatever you want in terms of products and services ».
Companies like Honda, Hyundai and Boston Dynamics have already developed humanoid robots that can perform far more advanced actions than those demonstrated by Optimus. In particular, the robots of Boston Dynamics have become famous to the general public for the video in which they dance to the tune of “Do you love me” by Contours. What no one has yet managed to do is create a robot that is capable of responding autonomously to unpredictable scenarios, such as those encountered daily in real life.
According to Musk, with Optimus Tesla would be close to succeeding: “The number of situations in which Optimus is useful will increase exponentially, very very quickly,” said the entrepreneur, who plans to transform Tesla from a company that operates mainly in the automotive sector in a company at the forefront of robotics.
Many have responded with skepticism to his statements. On The Verge, Andrew Hawkins and Umar Shakir recall that “Tesla’s history is littered with imaginative ideas that have never been successful, so no one knows if a production-ready Tesla Bot will ever see the light of day.” On the website of the Los Angeles Times, Samantha Masunaga added that Musk “is notoriously late with deadlines and once told an audience during a demonstration that the glass of the Tesla Cybertruck prototype was shatterproof, just before it shattered on stage.”
“In a way, it’s a throwback to what people imagined in the 1950s,” said Martin Ford, author of Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything. According to the expert, Tesla’s automotive plants are likely to be fully automated in the near future, but “it is simply unlikely that they will have personnel with humanoid robots that walk and behave like people, instead of specialized robots fixed to the ground and designed. for a specific task “.
In a Twitter threadFlorida State University robotics professor Christian Hubicki said he was impressed that Musk’s team got the results shown on AI Day over the span of a year, but added that Optimus’ abilities actually shown on the stage “seem standard (but not mind-blowing) for a humanoid.”
Interviewed by The Verge Animesh Garg, who deals with artificial intelligence for the University of Toronto, stressed that the main contribution that Musk can make to the development of these technologies is to channel attention, talent and economic resources. “This effort should be praised with cautious optimism by the community, because the compass points in the right direction and Elon carries the weight of the Tesla engineers,” he said.