Elon Musk has said a robot company would be worth more than Tesla’s cars, and on Friday investors, customers and would-be workers expect to see a prototype on Tesla’s “AI Day” which could prove if the bot named “Optimus” is ready to run.
The robot will be the star of the AI show, but Musk is also expected to discuss Tesla’s long-delayed self-driving technology. In May, the CEO said the world’s most valuable automaker would be of “virtually zero value” if it failed to achieve full self-driving capability, and faced growing regulatory investigations , as well as technological barriers.
“There will be lots of tech details and cool hardware demonstrations,” Musk wrote on Twitter late Wednesday, adding that the event was aimed at recruiting engineers.
The track record of Tesla’s live demos is mixed. Launches usually draw cheers, but in 2019, when Musk had an employee throw a steel ball at the armored window of a new electric pickup truck, the glass cracked.
The key test for the robot is whether it can handle unexpected situations.
Musk announced Tesla’s plan for humanoid robots at his AI Day in August last year and postponed this year’s event from August to get his robot prototype working, with a plan to start production possibly next year.
Tesla teased the bot’s unveiling on social media with an image of heart-shaped metallic robotic hands. But building versatile human-like hands that can manipulate different objects is extremely difficult, said Heni Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University.
Initially, Optimus, an allusion to the powerful and benevolent leader of the Autobots in the Transformers media franchise, would do boring or dangerous jobs, including moving parts in Tesla factories or attaching a bolt to a car with a wrench, according to Musk.
“There are so many things people can do with dexterity that it’s very, very difficult for robots. And it won’t change if the robot is a robot arm or if it’s shaped like a humanoid,” Jonathan Hurst, chief technology officer at humanoid robot company Agility Robotics, told Reuters.
Musk said that in the future, robots could be used in homes, cook dinners, mow lawns and care for the elderly, and even become a “buddy” to humans or a sexual partner.
He is also expected at Friday’s event to give updates on Tesla’s high-speed computer, Dojo, which was unveiled last year and which the company says is integral to its development of the autonomous driving technology.
Musk said he expects Tesla to achieve fully autonomous driving this year and mass-produce a robotaxi without a steering wheel or pedal by 2024.
At an “Autonomy” event in 2019, Musk promised 1m robotaxis by 2020 but has yet to deliver such a car.