Emerging from behind a video screen, the robot, this prototype model referred to as “Bumble C,” stiltedly made its way across the stage, waved to the audience, and did a short “raise-the-roof” motion with its arms before shuffling back offstage. Unlike the proposed version shown off at the 2021 A.I. Day event, which Musk admitted was just a man in a costume, the prototype was clearly a work-in-progress, with exposed wires and blinking hardware. But Musk hinted that Tesla’s team had barely scratched the surface of the robot’s potential.
“The robot can do a lot more than what we just showed you, we just didn’t want it to fall on its face,” said Musk, who added that the demonstration was the first time that Bumble C had walked without being tethered to anything, such as a crane or external power source.
It’s still early days for the project, but Musk’s ambition is evident. He says that the robot’s expected price will be less than $20,000 and that it will eventually be able to perform a vast array of human tasks, from basic household chores to factory labor.
While other robotics companies (such as Boston Dynamics) may have more impressive demonstrations of what their humanoid robots can accomplish physically, Optimus is unique because of its brain, which is powered by the same A.I. technology behind Tesla’s self-driving car program, according to Musk. This tech allows the robot to identify and label distinct objects, understand the physical space it occupies, and manipulate objects in the real world, such as picking up and moving boxes.
Never one to mince words, Musk said that the Optimus bot could have a transformational effect on the global economy, noting that if there is an infinite supply of labor, there’s theoretically no limit to how large an economy can become. Musk says that this robotic workforce could lead to “a future of abundance where there is no poverty, where you can have whatever you want, in terms of products and services.”