Elon Musk says production of Tesla’s robot could start next year, but A.I. experts have their doubts
The Tesla Bot is on display at the Tesla Giga Texas manufacturing facility during the “Cyber Rodeo” grand opening party on April 7, 2022 in Austin, Texas.
Suzanne Cordeiro | AFP | Getty Images
Tesla may start production of a humanoid robot known as Optimus as early as next year, CEO Elon Musk said Thursday.
The electric vehicle maker first teased the robot, also known as the Tesla Bot, at its “AI Day” in Aug. 2021, saying it will be a general purpose machine capable of doing a wide range of tasks.
“We have a shot of being in production for version one of Optimus hopefully next year,” Musk said Thursday at the opening of Tesla’s new vehicle assembly plant in Austin, Texas, where he appeared on stage — in a cowboy hat and sunglasses — to Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.”
Tesla has yet to reveal a working prototype of the robot, however, and it’s unclear how sophisticated Optimus is at this stage.
Musk claimed that Optimus will eventually be able do anything that humans don’t want to do, claiming that it will bring about an “age of abundance”.
Striking a bullish tone, Musk also suggested that the robot will “transform the world … to a degree even greater” than the cars Tesla is renowned for. “It’s maybe hard to imagine it,” he said.
AI has been hailed as a potential threat to humanity and Musk said in 2018 that he thinks AI is more dangerous that nuclear weapons. “As you see Optimus develop, everyone’s going to make sure it’s safe,” he said Thursday. “No Terminator stuff or that kind of thing.”
He previously said Tesla was designing the robot so that humans would be capable of running away from it, or overpowering it.
When Musk first announced Tesla’s robot, he said it will be based on the same chips and sensors that the company’s cars use for self-driving features. It is five foot eight inches tall, according to Musk, and has a screen at head-height for useful information.
Many people initially thought that the bot was little more than an AI recruitment tool for Tesla, but Musk said in January that the robot is actually a top priority for new product development this year.
“I think it has the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time,” Musk said of the robot at the time. The fact that he’s now talking about production in 2023 suggests Optimus is indeed a serious endeavor.
AI researcher and entrepreneur Gary Marcus told CNBC he’d be willing to make a bet that no robot will be able to do all human tasks by the end of 2023.
“Tesla has not even (after years of effort) come close to reliably solving one relatively simple task (driving); to claim that a robot that has never been shown publicly will solve all of human tasks in the next year or two is preposterous,” he said.
“He can ship whatever he wants next year, since he is the boss, but there is no way that version one will come anywhere near his ambitions, if it is released that quickly.”
Musk is known for his showmanship, in which he announces that Tesla is working on exciting products scheduled for years into the future to energize backers including employees, customers, and investors. Often, products launches do not happen on the timeline predicted.
For instance, at an “Autonomy Day” event in Apr. 2019, Musk said the company would have 1 million autonomous “robotaxis” on the road in 2020. Those robotaxis are nowhere to be seen.
And in October 2016, Musk held an event at Universal Studios’ back lot in Los Angeles to show off a product he called the Solar Roof. The solar roof tiles on display turned out to be merely conceptual.
— Additional reporting by CNBC’s Kif Leswing.