We’re one step closer to a Jetsons-style future where we can outsource the tedious parts of everyday life to a quietly suffering robo-servant.
Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced his intention for the company to build humanoid robots, but decided the best way to demonstrate the ambition was to hire someone to dress up as a robot and dance.
Rather than impressing, it looked like someone got lost on the way to audition for an ill-advised Power Rangers musical.
This time around, Musk wouldn’t make the same mistake and showed off not one, but two prototype Optimus robots — albeit one that the billionaire wouldn’t trust to walk on its own yet. You can watch the whole segment in the embed below from the 17-minute mark.
The first robot ambled around the stage, waved and did a somewhat awkward ‘raise the roof’ dance, all with its mechanical innards exposed like the Terminator after his acid shower.
A second prototype with its modest covered, closer to what will be available to buy was then rolled out, followed and demoed the “degrees of freedom” a commercially available unit will eventually show. In this model, you could see independent finger movements and opposable thumbs.
That’s quite an important development, given current robots struggle with the kind of fine digit dexterity most humans take for granted. While you or I could fill and empty a dishwasher, getting a robot to do the same is ridiculously challenging, as well as being a recipe for picking bits of glass out of your feet for weeks.
Optimus, meanwhile, has been “inspired by biology” with its fingers all served with metallic tendons to closely emulate a human’s flexible grip.
All of this will be guided by the same artificial intelligence Tesla has been putting into its cars. “We want to leverage both the autopilot hardware and the software for the humanoid platform, but because it’s different in requirements and in form factor, we’re going to change a few things first,” explained Lizzie Miskovetz, a senior mechanical engineer at Tesla.
“It’s going to do everything that a human brain does: processing vision data, making split-second decisions based on multiple sensory inputs and also communications,” she continued. These would be aided by integrated WiFi and cellular radio.
To keep Optimus trucking for a full working day like (most) human employees, Optimus will be kitted out with a 2.3kWh battery pack. It will use 100W when sitting, or 500W when walking at its 5mph top speed.
This is obviously years away from being available for industrial use, let alone homes, but Musk’s ultimate aim is for it to be the kind of mechanical butler that makes Amazon’s Astro look positively prehistoric. The big advantage the company has over the likes of Boston Dynamics? The ability to “make the robot at a high volume at low cost with higher reliability,” Musk says.
To that end, Musk believes it’ll be cheaper than a car — although he’s specifically referring to Tesla’s high-end vehicles here, and not the old bangers that most of us end up with. All the same, he believes Optimus will cost under $20,000 (~NZ$35,420) per unit when they’re eventually available to all.
Cheaper than a butler, but more expensive than just doing the dishes yourself, in other words.