Tesla’s humanoid robot

While some of the big robotics players like ABB might take exception to the classification, it’s a fair point. Tesla deals not only in the software underpinnings of automation (AI, neural nets, differential engines), but also in the hardware (sensors, actuators). The company’s efforts have focused on machines with wheels, but is it really a far leap to put the same technology into a bipedal humanoid? Just a few years ago the answer would probably be yes, that is a pretty big leap. But advances in replicating bipedal gait made over the last decade-and-a-half, along with robotics controls progress from companies like Boston Dynamics, have paved the way for a new class of humanoid robots.

Perhaps a more pertinent question is how a humanoid robot fits into Tesla’s business model, and the answer isn’t so clear. In his post, Musk clearly emphasizes that the idea is to eventually target the consumer market with home robotics. But that’s proven a spectacularly frugal market, one that hasn’t matured appreciably outside a few notable exceptions (iRobot’s Roomba most prominent among them). Of course that doesn’t mean the market won’t evolve, and with Amazon’s purchase of iRobot it’s a safe bet we’re going to see a lot of marketing in that direction.

But it’s a far trip from a robot vacuum to a humanoid robot, and a lot has to happen in terms of technology development and production cost to make that reality feasible. Most likely what Musk is doing is positioning Tesla to be part of the fight in coming decades. Whether the company’s development interest can survive what will almost certainly be a letdown after the recent hype (humanoid robots just aren’t ready for primetime when it comes to performing a variety of common tasks in unstructured environments) remains to be seen.

Tesla is set to unveil a new humanoid robot, called Optimus, in late September. There’s been a lot of speculation surrounding Tesla’s strategy in entering the robotics market, and a recent post by boss Elon Musk sheds some new light.

In the post, published in the China’s Cyberspace Administration’s official publication, Musk continued to make the point he’s underlined since announcing the Tesla Bot project in 2021: That Tesla, because of its major investments in autonomous driving, is arguably the biggest robotics company in the world.

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