SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Tesla (TSLA.O) CEO Elon Musk showed off a prototype of its humanoid robot ‘Optimus’ on Friday, predicting the electric vehicle maker could produce millions and sell them for less than $20,000 – less than a third of the price of a Model Y.
Musk said he expects Tesla to be ready to take orders for the robot in three to five years, and described more than a decade of effort to develop the product, the most detailed look at a business he’s given to date. Tesla’s EV revenue will be bigger than that.
Tesla’s drive to design and develop mass-market robots that are tested by working jobs in its factories sets it apart from other manufacturers that have experimented with humanoid robots.
Sign up now for unlimited free access to Reuters.com
The eagerly-anticipated unveiling of prototype robots at Tesla’s office in Palo Alto, California, is part of what Musk described as an effort to position Tesla as a leader in fields such as artificial intelligence rather than a company that makes “cool cars.”
The experimental robot, which Tesla said was developed in February, took to the crowd on Friday and showed a video of Tesla doing simple tasks such as watering plants, carrying boxes and lifting metal bars at the company’s manufacturing facility. California plant.
But a streamlined electric current, which Musk said was close to what he intended to produce, was rolled out on a stage and gently waved through the crowd. Musk called it Optimus and said it could happen in a matter of weeks.
“There’s still a lot of work to do to refine Optimus and prove it,” Musk said, “and I think in five or 10 years Optimus will be incredible, mind-blowing.”
He said existing humanoid robots are “missing brains” – and capable of solving problems on their own. In contrast, Optimus will be a “highly efficient robot” that Tesla will produce by the millions, he said.
Other automakers including Toyota Motor (7203.D) and Honda Motor (7267.D)It has developed humanoid robot prototypes that can do complex things like shoot a basketball, and manufacturing robots from ABB and others are a staple of automotive manufacturing.
But Tesla is alone in pushing the market opportunity for a mass-market robot that can also be used in factory jobs.
The next-generation Tesla Bot will use Tesla-designed components, including a 2.3-kilowatt battery pack, a chip system carried in its torso, and actuators to move its limbs. This robot is designed to weigh 73 kg.
Tesla engineers, including Musk, all wore black T-shirts with the image of metal robotic arms forming a heart shape, showing how the robot’s features — including parts like moving fingers — were focused on cost-cutting production.
“We’re trying to pursue the goal of a fast track to a useful robot that can be built on the block,” Musk said.
By building a robotics business, Tesla is changing the terms of a well-known mission statement that promises investors and climate activists to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
“Optimus doesn’t fit directly into accelerating sustainable energy,” Musk said. “I think the mission will expand somewhat with the arrival of Optimus — you know, I don’t know: making the future awesome.”
Musk described the event as intended to recruit workers, and the engineers on stage catered to the tech audience. They described the process by which Tesla designed the robotic arms and used crash-simulator technology to test the robot’s ability to fall on its face without breaking.
Musk has previously spoken about the risks of artificial intelligence, saying the mass release of robots has the potential to “transform civilization” and create a “future without poverty.” But he said he believes the role of Tesla shareholders is important in validating the company’s efforts.
“If I get mad, you can fire me,” Musk said. “It’s important.”
Many of the reactions on Twitter were positive, focusing on the pace of Tesla’s development efforts since August last year, when Tesla announced its plans with a stunt that featured a man in a white suit simulating a humanoid robot.
Henry Ben Amour, a professor of robotics at Arizona State University, said Musk’s price target of $20,000 is a “good proposition” because the current cost is about $100,000 for humanoid robots.
“There’s some kind of discrepancy between the ambition and what they’ve put forward,” he said. “In terms of dexterity, speed, ability to walk in a consistent fashion and so on, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Aaron Johnson, a mechanical engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said the robot’s need is debatable.
“What’s really interesting is that they’ve gotten to that point so quickly. What’s a little more murky is that it’s the perfect use for them to make millions,” Johnson said.
Tesla also discussed its long-delayed self-driving technology at the event. Engineers working on the auto self-driving software described how they trained the software to choose actions such as when to merge into traffic and how to speed up the computer’s decision-making process.
In May, Musk said the world’s most valuable carmaker is “essentially worth zero” without achieving full self-driving capability, and that it faces growing regulatory scrutiny and technological hurdles.
Musk said on Friday that beta testing of Tesla’s fully self-driving capability would be “technically” ready for a global rollout by the end of 2022, but regulations represented hurdles.
Sign up now for unlimited free access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Kevin Krolicki; Written by Muralikumar Anantharaman; Editing by Peter Henderson and Daniel Wallis
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.