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Tesla unveils humanoid robot, plans to sell 'millions'

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CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images

On Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled Optimus, a functioning humanoid robot that shares some artificial intelligence software and sensors with Tesla cars’ Autopilot driver assistance features.

The version of Opitimus that was unveiled at Tesla’s AI Day event is only a prototype, but Tesla believes that a version of it will be available to consumers in the near future. Musk predicted that in the next few years, Tesla would be able to produce millions of robots and sell them for under $20,000. “Right now we just want to make basic humanoid work well, and our goal is fastest path to a useful humanoid robot,” Musk stated.

During the event, the robot walked, waved, a performed a brief dance. Tesla also played a few video clips showing the robot performing tasks like picking up boxes. Musk differentiated Optimus from existing humanoid robots by stating that competitors’ robots are “missing a brain,” along with the ability to solve problems on their own.

Tesla leaders have high expectations for what Optimus will ultimately be able to accomplish. "After seeing what we've shown tonight," said Milan Kovac, Tesla's Director of Autopilot Software Engineering. "I'm pretty sure we can get this done within the next few months or years and maybe make this product a reality and change the entire economy."

Musk has warned in the past about the potential pitfalls of artificial intelligence. He stated his concern that a future with AI could look something the "Terminator" series, with supercomputers serving as “an immortal dictator from which we would never escape.”

The prototype of Optimus displayed far less capability than James Cameron’s T-1000 assassin. "There's some discrepancy between sort of the ambition and what they have presented," said Henri Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University. "When it comes to dexterity, speed, the ability to walk in a stable fashion and so on, there's still a lot of work to be done."

Musk largely agreed with Ben Amor’s assessment, but he believes Tesla will soon be building far more impressive robots. "There's still a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and prove it," Musk said. He also added, "I think Optimus is going to be incredible in five or 10 years, like mind blowing."

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