Musk unveiled Optimus at AI Day 2022 on Friday. “I do want to set some expectations with respect to our Optimus robot,” he said. “As you know, last year was just a person in a robot suit. We’ve come a long way…compared to that, it’ll be really impressive.” That’s a pretty big deal, considering Musk was already quite hopeful about the robot’s potential last year. He went on to say that he thinks Optimus could “make a meaningful contribution to AGI,” or artificial general intelligence: a type of AI that has the flexibility and problem-solving ability of human cognition. (Quite the statement from someone who claims to be tempering expectations, but it’s Elon Musk we’re talking about here.)
Even more surprising is the fact that AI Day 2022 was Optimus’ first time moving around with zero physical support. “This is actually the first time we try this robot without any backup support,” a Tesla engineer warned. Thankfully Optimus did just fine: The robot walked onstage, waved, and “raised the roof” without a hitch.
Without its sleek and shiny exterior, Optimus looks just like any other electromechanical humanoid. Its metal limbs are surrounded by wire helixes that connect to the torso, which houses the same visual processing system Tesla uses for its vehicles. (Musk didn’t say what the bot’s limbs were made of, but based on appearance and previous statements regarding the use of “lightweight materials,” it might be aluminum.) According to Tesla’s engineers, the bot’s 2.3 kWh 52V battery pack can power “about a full day of work” on a single charge. Optimus’ “muscles” contain 28 custom structural actuators in total. The hands alone have six cable-driven actuators that supply 11 degrees of freedom, allowing its metal phalanges to grasp and use small tools.
But outside of the lab, how useful is Optimus really? Tesla’s robot can pick up and carry items as heavy as 20 pounds, water plants, and work an assembly line—the latter of which was a key factor in the robot’s development. Musk mentioned Optimus is designed to participate in manufacturing (among other things) and be produced at scale, with a market price of just under $20,000 per unit. If the robot’s potential is really as promising as Musk makes it sound, the fact that it’s significantly cheaper than Tesla’s vehicles could be a game-changer. It won’t be supplementing human labor anytime soon, however; Musk estimates Optimus won’t be available for purchase for at least another three to five years.