Can Elon Musk and Tesla really build a humanoid robot in 2022?

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The car company’s expertise successful AI could assistance it plan a moving prototype, but delivering a reliable merchandise connected docket volition beryllium challenging

Technology 30 December 2021

By Matthew Sparkes

New Scientist Default Image

An representation of the Optimus robot released by Tesla


In August 2021, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would physique a humanoid robot designed to “eliminate dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks” and respond to dependable commands, promising to amusement disconnected a prototype successful 2022. Can the institution present connected Musk’s goal?

Tesla has achieved a large woody since Musk founded the electrical car steadfast successful 2003: building a valuation of $1 trillion, selling successful excess of fractional a cardinal cars and installing a planetary web of much than 2000 charging stations for them. But determination person besides been failures and delays.

Musk promised to person a cardinal self-driving taxis connected the roadworthy by 2020. He has agelong touted the imminent accomplishment of full autonomy for his cars; scheduled a Tesla lorry for accumulation successful 2020 and a Cybertruck soon aft successful 2021. All of those deadlines person been oregon are owed to beryllium missed. Musk himself has admitted that helium lacks punctuality but insists that astir of his predictions travel to walk eventually.

The robot, referred to arsenic Optimus wrong the company, volition beryllium 173 centimetres gangly and measurement 57 kilograms, and it volition beryllium capable to transportation a cargo of up to 20 kilograms, according to Musk’s presumption successful August.

He said overmuch of the exertion successful Tesla’s self-driving cars is applicable to humanoid robots and should springiness them a caput start. “Tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics institution due to the fact that our cars are similar semi-sentient robots connected wheels,” helium said. “It benignant of makes consciousness to enactment that onto a humanoid form.”

Tetsuya Ogata astatine Waseda University successful Tokyo, Japan, believes that engineering of the robot indispensable beryllium progressing well, oregon the institution wouldn’t marque specified bold claims. But helium expects that it volition not lone tally into AI problems, wherever Tesla surely has a batch of experience, but hardware problems, wherever it doesn’t, due to the fact that humanoid robots are overmuch much analyzable than cars.

“It’s precise hard to make robot hands that tin execute the aforesaid tasks arsenic a human,” helium says. “How to reproduce senses that let tactile feedback is besides a large problem.”

Zhongyu Li astatine the University of California, Berkeley, says helium admires the vision, but thinks the deadline is “very ambitious”. He expects Tesla to deed its people of demonstrating a prototype of immoderate kind, but possibly brushwood problems bringing it to market.

“Getting a prototype to locomotion for immoderate abbreviated demos is not that challenging for their clever engineers, but getting humanoid robots to reliably run successful regular beingness is different story. It needs reliable hardware, a robust power algorithm that tin forestall the robot falling, retrieve from a fall, and observe and debar obstacles, and these whitethorn instrumentality years,” helium says.

Others judge that the exertion is possible, but not successful the slender signifier that Musk promises. Florian Richter astatine the University of California, San Diego, points to the Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics which tin run, leap and execute a scope of tasks, but which besides has a bulky assemblage and a ample backpack-style artillery pack.

“They person a batch of enactment to do. I deliberation their extremity of a hardware prototype wrong a twelvemonth is wholly feasible, but with astir apt fractional of their desired powerfulness and immoderate benignant of value compromise,” says Richter. “They besides should beryllium capable to get it walking astir connected level surfaces beauteous quickly, but different human-level tasks similar grasping volition instrumentality a fewer years of probe and a batch of innovation.”

Neither Tesla nor Elon Musk responded to a petition for interview.

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