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

By Wafa Johal (Senior Lecturer, Computing & Info Programs, 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 stated work was starting on a “pleasant” humanoid robotic to “navigate by way of a world constructed for people and eradicate 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 group, and was proven doing easy guide duties corresponding to carrying and lifting in a video. As a robotics researcher, I didn’t discover the demonstration very spectacular – however I’m hopeful it should result in larger and higher issues.

Why would we wish humanoid robots?

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

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

In contrast to industrial robots, humanoid robots would possibly be capable to transfer round and work together with people. In contrast to robotic vacuum cleaners, they may be capable to go up stairs or traverse uneven terrain.

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

Room for enchancment

Primarily based on what we noticed within the Tesla presentation, Optimus is a good distance from having the ability to function with people or in human environments. The capabilities of the robotic showcased fall far wanting the state-of-the-art in humanoid robotics.

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

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

Bipedal strolling (on two ft) alone is not a terrific achievement for a robotic. Certainly, with a bit of information and dedication you’ll be able to 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 might be important for any robotic that works in human environments: not just for collaborating with people, but additionally for fundamental security.

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

Sceptical customers

Others have tried to construct and promote humanoid robots up to now, corresponding to Honda’s ASIMO and SoftBank’s Pepper. However up to now they’ve by no means actually taken off.

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

Customers appear to be sceptical of robots. Thus far, the one broadly adopted family robots are the Roomba-like vacuum cleaners, which have been out there 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 concerning the Optimus challenge. 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 the rest.

Tesla definitely has loads of assets to throw on the drawback. 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 challenge, but additionally to drum up curiosity amongst customers.

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

The Conversation

Wafa Johal receives funding from the Australian Analysis Council.

This text appeared in The Dialog.

The Dialog
is an unbiased supply of stories and views, sourced from the educational and analysis group and delivered direct to the general public.

The Dialog
is an unbiased supply of stories and views, sourced from the educational and analysis group and delivered direct to the general public.



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