Tesla robot walks, waves, but doesn’t show off complex tasks

Sep 30, 2022, 8:40 PM | Updated: Oct 3, 2022, 4:15 am
FILE - Tesla Motors, Inc. CEO Elon Musk speaks at the Paris Pantheon Sorbonne University as part of...

FILE - Tesla Motors, Inc. CEO Elon Musk speaks at the Paris Pantheon Sorbonne University as part of the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris on Dec. 2, 2015. An early prototype of Tesla Inc.'s proposed Optimus humanoid robot slowly and awkwardly walked onto a stage, turned, and waved to a cheering crowd at the company's artificial intelligence event Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

(AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

DETROIT (AP) — An early prototype of Tesla Inc.’s proposed Optimus humanoid robot slowly and awkwardly walked onto a stage, turned, and waved to a cheering crowd at the company’s artificial intelligence event Friday.

But the basic tasks by the robot with exposed wires and electronics — as well as a later, next generation version that had to be carried onstage by three men — was a long way from CEO Elon Musk’s vision of a human-like robot that can change the world.

Musk told the crowd, many of whom might be hired by Tesla, that the robot can do much more than the audience saw Friday. He said it is also delicate and “we just didn’t want it to fall on its face.”

Musk suggested that the problem with flashy robot demonstrations is that the robots are “missing a brain” and don’t have the intelligence to navigate themselves, but he gave little evidence Friday that Optimus was any more intelligent than robots developed by other companies and researchers.

The demo didn’t impress AI researcher Filip Piekniewski, who tweeted it was “next level cringeworthy” and a “complete and utter scam.” He said it would be “good to test falling, as this thing will be falling a lot.”

“None of this is cutting edge,” tweeted robotics expert Cynthia Yeung. “Hire some PhDs and go to some robotics conferences @Tesla.”

Yeung also questioned why Tesla opted for its robot to have a human-like hand with five fingers, noting “there’s a reason why” warehouse robots developed by startup firms use pinchers with two or three fingers or vacuum-based grippers.

Musk said that Friday night was the first time the early robot walked onstage without a tether. Tesla’s goal, he said, is to make an “extremely capable” robot in high volumes — possibly millions of them — at a cost that could be less than a car, that he guessed would be less than $20,000.

Tesla showed a video of the robot, which uses artificial intelligence that Tesla is testing in its “Full Self-Driving” vehicles, carrying boxes and placing a metal bar into what appeared to be a factory machine. But there was no live demonstration of the robot completing the tasks.

Employees told the crowd in Palo Alto, California, as well as those watching via livestream, that they have been working on Optimus for six to eight months. People can probably buy an Optimus “within three to five years,” Musk said.

Employees said Optimus robots would have four fingers and a thumb with a tendon-like system so they could have the dexterity of humans.

The robot is backed by giant artificial intelligence computers that track millions of video frames from “Full Self-Driving” autos. Similar computers would be used to teach tasks to the robots, they said.

Experts in the robotics field were skeptical that Tesla is anywhere near close to rolling out legions of human-like home robots that can do the “useful things” Musk wants them to do — say, make dinner, mow the lawn, keep watch on an aging grandmother.

“When you’re trying to develop a robot that is both affordable and useful, a humanoid kind of shape and size is not necessarily the best way,” said Tom Ryden, executive director of the nonprofit startup incubator Mass Robotics.

Tesla isn’t the first car company to experiment with humanoid robots.

Honda more than two decades ago unveiled Asimo, which resembled a life-size space suit and was shown in a carefully-orchestrated demonstration to be able to pour liquid into a cup. Hyundai also owns a collection of humanoid and animal-like robots through its 2021 acquisition of robotics firm Boston Dynamics. Ford has partnered with Oregon startup Agility Robotics, which makes robots with two legs and two arms that can walk and lift packages.

Ryden said carmakers’ research into humanoid robotics can potentially lead to machines that can walk, climb and get over obstacles, but impressive demos of the past haven’t led to an “actual use scenario” that lives up to the hype.

“There’s a lot of learning that they’re getting from understanding the way humanoids function,” he said. “But in terms of directly having a humanoid as a product, I’m not sure that that’s going to be coming out anytime soon.”

Critics also said years ago that Musk and Tesla wouldn’t be able to build a profitable new car company that used batteries for power rather than gasoline.

Tesla is testing “Full Self-Driving” vehicles on public roads, but they have to be monitored by selected owners who must be ready to intervene at all times. The company says it has about 160,000 vehicles equipped with the test software on the road today.

Critics have said the Teslas, which rely on cameras and powerful computers to drive by themselves, don’t have enough sensors to drive safely. Tesla’s less capable Autopilot driver-assist system, with the same camera sensors, is under investigation by U.S. safety regulators for braking for no reason and repeatedly running into emergency vehicles with flashing lights parked along freeways.

In 2019, Musk promised a fleet of autonomous robotaxis would be in use by the end of 2020. They are still being tested.

____

O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Elderly residents are evacuated by a local organization from the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine,...
Associated Press

Ukraine on edge for more attacks, West eyes humanitarian aid

KYIV (AP) — Ukraine prepared for more Russian strikes on Monday and warned of the possibility for a new round of evacuations from the capital during a relative lull from the airstrikes on energy facilities and other key infrastructure in recent weeks. In the West, meanwhile, preparations were stepped up to boost humanitarian aid to […]
5 hours ago
Wreaths hang on the Truman Balcony of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Pho...
Associated Press

‘We the People’ is the White House’s theme for the holidays

WASHINGTON (AP) — Drawing decorating inspiration from America’s founding documents, Jill Biden chose a “We the People” theme to deck the White House halls and to remind Americans of what unites them throughout the year, especially during the holidays. Journalists were given a sneak peek early Monday before the first lady was to unveil the […]
5 hours ago
FILE - Holding cells are visible in a basement of a police station that was used by Russian forces ...
Associated Press

Biden boosts US effort to stem sexual violence in war zones

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is strengthening U.S. policy aimed at stemming sexual violence in war conflict zones, elevating the problem — increasingly documented in Ukraine and elsewhere — to the level of a possible serious human rights abuse that triggers sanctions and other actions against foreign perpetrators. Biden, a Democrat, on Monday will […]
5 hours ago
FILE - Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ...
Associated Press

Democrats kept the Senate this year, but 2024 may be harder

NEW YORK (AP) — Democrats celebrating a successful effort to keep control of the U.S. Senate this year will soon confront a 2024 campaign that could prove more challenging. The party enters the next cycle defending 23 seats, including two held by independents who caucus with Democrats. That’s compared with just 10 seats that Republicans […]
5 hours ago
Associated Press

Water levels in Zimbabwe’s biggest dam too low for power

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Electricity shortages that have been plaguing Zimbabwe are set to worsen after an authority that manages the country’s biggest dam said water levels are now too low to continue power generation activities. The Zambezi River Authority, which runs the Kariba Dam jointly owned by Zimbabwe and neighboring Zambia, said in a […]
5 hours ago
FILE - The Federal Correctional Institution is shown in Dublin, Calif., July 20, 2006. The former w...
Associated Press

Ex-prison warden faces trial over inmate abuse allegations

The former warden of an abuse-plagued federal women’s prison known as the “rape club” goes on trial Monday, accused of molesting inmates and forcing them to pose naked in their cells. Ray J. Garcia, who retired after the FBI found nude photos of inmates on his government-issued phone last year, is among five workers charged […]
5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Tesla robot walks, waves, but doesn’t show off complex tasks