Elon Musk faces skeptics as Tesla prepares to unveil ‘Optimus’ robot

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Tesla (TSLA.O) chief executive Elon Musk has blamed overreliance on factory robots for sending the electric car maker into “the production hell” four years ago, claiming that humans are better at certain jobs.

My, how times have changed.

Musk’s Texas-based company is now proposing ambitious plans to deploy thousands of humanoid robots, known as Tesla Bots or Optimus, in its factories, eventually expanding to millions around the world, according to bids. use. Buzz is building within the company as Tesla holds more internal robot meetings, a person familiar with the matter said.

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Longer term, Musk told a TED Talk that robots could be used in homes, cooking dinner, mowing lawns and caring for the elderly, and even becoming a “buddy” or sex partner. “catgirl”.

The robotics business could eventually be worth more than Tesla’s auto revenue, according to Musk, who is now touting a vision for the company that goes far beyond making self-driving electric vehicles.

On his “AI Day” on Sept. 30, Musk said Tesla would unveil a prototype of his Project Optimus, an allusion to the powerful and benevolent leader of the Autobots in the Transformers series. Production could start next year, he said.

According to robotics experts, investors and analysts polled by Reuters, Tesla faces skepticism about its ability to show technological advances that would justify spending on “general purpose” robots in factories, homes and elsewhere.

Tesla already employs hundreds of job-specific robots in the production of its cars.

Humanoid robots have been developed for decades by the Boston Dynamics unit of Honda Motor Co (7267.T) and Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS). Like self-driving cars, robots struggle with unpredictable situations. Read more

“It hasn’t been proven that self-driving cars are as easy as thought. And it’s the same with humanoid robots to some extent,” team leader Dexterous Robotics told Reuters. from NASA, Shaun Azimi.

“If something unexpected happens, it’s very difficult to be flexible and robust in the face of these kinds of changes.”

At an “Autonomy” event in 2019, Musk promised 1 million robotaxis by 2020 but has yet to deliver such a car.

Musk’s robots might be able to demonstrate basic capabilities at the event, but they would be hard-pressed to impress public expectations of robots as capable as humans, experts say.

To succeed, Tesla will need to show robots performing several unscripted actions, said Nancy Cooke, professor of human systems engineering at Arizona State University. Such evidence could give a boost to Tesla stock, which is down 25% from its 2021 peak.

“If he just makes the robot walk or he makes the robots dance, it’s already done. It’s not that impressive,” she said.

Tesla did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment, but Musk has in the past proved doubters wrong, launching the electric car market and founding a rocket company, SpaceX, although some product launches have fallen behind.

INTERNAL EXPERTISE

Initially, Optimus will do boring or dangerous jobs, including moving parts around its factories, according to Musk.

Musk acknowledged that humanoid robots don’t have enough intelligence to navigate the real world without being explicitly told.

But he said Tesla could leverage its expertise in AI and key components to develop and mass-produce intelligent but cheaper humanoid robots.

Tesla is in the process of hiring people to work on humanoid bipedal robots, with around 20 job postings on “Tesla Bot,” including jobs designing key robot parts like “actuators.”

“The code you write will eventually run on millions of humanoid robots around the world, and will therefore be held to high quality standards,” one of the job postings said.

Tesla has over 2 million vehicles on the road.

Jonathan Hurst, chief technology officer at Agility Robotics, a humanoid robot company founded in 2015, said the technology “is starting to turn the page right now.”

“Certainly an important measure of success is whether they make money out of it,” he told Reuters, referring to Tesla’s humanoid robot efforts.

HUMAN HELP?

Analysts see more pageant than product. “It’s all part of distracting people and giving them the next shiny object to chase,” said Guidehouse Insights analyst Sam Abuelsamid.

“Investors aren’t excited about Optimus,” said Gene Munster, managing partner of venture capital firm Loup Ventures, which owns Tesla stock. “It’s just such a low probability that it will work at scale,” he said, saying it’s “infinitely more difficult than self-driving cars.”

And then there’s Musk’s own experience with robots in the factory.

During 2018’s production hell, Musk specifically noted problems with the “fluff bot,” an assembly robot that failed to perform simple tasks that human hands can do – picking up pieces of “stuffed animals” and place them in piles.

He said the cost of having technicians to maintain the complicated robot far exceeded that of hiring someone to do the assembly.

The bot fluff is “an amusing but driving example that autonomy often doesn’t generalize well, and so handling a soft, fluffy material that isn’t as predictable as a rigid piece was a huge problem. “Aaron Johnson, a mechanic engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said.

“Human hands are much better at doing this,” Musk said.

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Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Peter Henderson, Ben Klayman and Lisa Shumaker

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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