The development of Tesla's autonomous vehicles has dominated the company's focus in recent times, but this year focus will be centred on developing a humanoid robot, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Musk made the comments to investors at Tesla's Q4 and Full Year earnings report on January 26th, at which he also said robotics has the potential to be more significant than Tesla's bread and butter business, the car industry: "In terms of priority of products, I think, the most important product we're doing this year in terms of product development is actually the Optimus humanoid robot. This has the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time," said Musk.
"If you think about the economy, the foundation of the economy is labour, capital equipment, distilled labour. So what happens if you don't actually have a labour shortage? I'm not sure what an economy even means at that point. That's what Optimus is about. Why it's so important," he said.
Musk revealed plans to develop the Optimus humaniod robot, mostly referred to as the Tesla bot, back at the Tesla AI Day event in August 2021. Before the news was announced, the event featured a human dressed up as a robot dancing on stage, a performance which has since led to the creation of Tesla bot memes on social media.
In true Tesla form, the company's plans for the bot envision a device that would be perfectly at home in a sci-fi film. According to Musk, it will look like the robot dancer at the AI Tesla Day event. Standing 5-feet 8 inches tall, the bot will be able to lift 68kg, run at 8km/hr and feature an interactive screen in place of its face.
The robot's purpose will be to act as a human helper, especially carrying out dangerous, repetitive or boring tasks now done by humans. At first it will be used in Tesla's own facilities "to help move things around," Musk said, before any further deployment.
Tesla will leverage its existing car technologies for the robot's development, including the AI system that controls autonomous driving, as well as its battery and actuation technologies. "Our cars are like semi-sentient robots on wheels... It kind of makes sense to put that on a humanoid form," he said.
Musk said Tesla's AI technology could help solve one of the biggest dilemma's in robotics today - how to create an artificial intelligence that is essentially sentient. "Tesla AI might play a role in AGI (artificial general intelligence), given that it trains against the outside world, especially with the advent of Optimus," he tweeted on January 19.
Tesla AI might play a role in AGI, given that it trains against the outside world, especially with the advent of Optimus— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 19, 2022
However, some scientists have cast doubt on Musk's statement, claiming that a huge leap in technology would be necessary to go from an AI capable of autonomous driving to a fully functional AGI.
Professor of robot ethics, Alan Winfield from the University of West England told the BBC, "The idea that you can crack AGI because you have created a driverless vehicle is absurd."
"Even if that car is highly capable, that would not be AGI - it would be high functioning narrow intelligence," he said.
Musk said a prototype of the Tesla bot could be ready as early as this year.