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Tesla’s Optimus robotic isn’t very spectacular – however it could be an indication of higher issues to return


By Wafa Johal (Senior Lecturer, Computing & Info Techniques, The College of Melbourne)

In August 2021, Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduced the electrical automobile producer was planning to get into the robotic enterprise. In a presentation accompanied by a human dressed as a robotic, Musk mentioned work was starting on a “pleasant” humanoid robotic to “navigate via a world constructed for people and remove harmful, repetitive and boring duties”.

Musk has now unveiled a prototype of the robotic, referred to as Optimus, which he hopes to mass-produce and promote for lower than US$20,000 (A$31,000).

On the unveiling, the robotic walked on a flat floor and waved to the gang, and was proven doing easy handbook duties reminiscent of carrying and lifting in a video. As a robotics researcher, I didn’t discover the demonstration very spectacular – however I’m hopeful it’ll result in larger and higher issues.

Why would we wish humanoid robots?

A lot of the robots used at this time don’t look something like folks. As an alternative, they’re machines designed to hold out a particular function, like the economic robots utilized in factories or the robotic vacuum cleaner you may need in your own home.

So why would you need one formed like a human? The fundamental reply is they’d be capable to function in environments designed for people.

Not like industrial robots, humanoid robots would possibly be capable to transfer round and work together with people. Not like robotic vacuum cleaners, they may be capable to go up stairs or traverse uneven terrain.

And in addition to sensible concerns, the concept of “synthetic people” has lengthy had an attraction for inventors and science-fiction writers!

Room for enchancment

Based mostly on what we noticed within the Tesla presentation, Optimus is a great distance from with the ability to function with people or in human environments. The capabilities of the robotic showcased fall far wanting the cutting-edge in humanoid robotics.

The Atlas robotic made by Boston Dynamics, for instance, can stroll outdoor and perform flips and different acrobatic manoeuvres.

And whereas Atlas is an experimental system, even the commercially obtainable Digit from Agility Robotics is rather more succesful than what we now have seen from Optimus. Digit can stroll on numerous terrains, keep away from obstacles, rebalance itself when bumped, and choose up and put down objects.

Bipedal strolling (on two toes) alone is not an awesome achievement for a robotic. Certainly, with a bit of data and dedication you possibly can construct such a robotic your self utilizing open supply software program.

There was additionally no signal within the Optimus presentation of the way it will work together with people. This can be important for any robotic that works in human environments: not just for collaborating with people, but in addition for primary security.

It may be very difficult for a robotic to perform seemingly easy duties reminiscent of handing an object to a human, however that is one thing we’d desire a home humanoid robotic to have the ability to do.

Sceptical customers

Others have tried to construct and promote humanoid robots previously, reminiscent of Honda’s ASIMO and SoftBank’s Pepper. However to this point they’ve by no means actually taken off.

Amazon’s just lately launched Astro robotic might make inroads right here, however it could additionally go the best way of its predecessors.

Customers appear to be sceptical of robots. To this point, the one broadly adopted family robots are the Roomba-like vacuum cleaners, which have been obtainable since 2002.

To succeed, a humanoid robotic will want be capable to do one thing people can’t to justify the value tag. At this stage the use case for Optimus remains to be not very clear.

Hope for the longer term

Regardless of these criticisms, I’m hopeful in regards to the Optimus mission. It’s nonetheless within the very early phases, and the presentation gave the impression to be aimed toward recruiting new employees as a lot as anything.

Tesla definitely has loads of assets to throw on the downside. We all know it has the capability to mass produce the robots if improvement will get that far.

Musk’s knack for gaining consideration might also be useful – not just for attracting expertise to the mission, but in addition to drum up curiosity amongst customers.

Robotics is a difficult discipline, and it’s tough to maneuver quick. I hope Optimus succeeds, each to make one thing cool we are able to use – and to push the sector of robotics ahead.

The Conversation

Wafa Johal receives funding from the Australian Analysis Council.

This text appeared in The Dialog.




The Dialog
is an impartial supply of reports and views, sourced from the tutorial and analysis group and delivered direct to the general public.

The Dialog
is an impartial supply of reports and views, sourced from the tutorial and analysis group and delivered direct to the general public.

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