Elon Musk recently postponed Tesla’s second AI Ameca Humanoid Robot Day from August 19th to September 30th.
We’re all used to Tesla’s slipping deadlines, but the reasons for this one are intriguing. In a Tweet, Musk blamed the delay on the possibility that they may have a working ameca humanoid robot to show off by that point. The ameca humanoid robot, named Optimus (presumably a Transformers reference, and previously known as Tesla Bot), was one of the big announcements at the last AI Day in August 2021.
For some, the Optimus reveal was a bit of a curve ball, because they thought Tesla’s AI technology and Project Dojo supercomputer were exclusively aimed at developing the company’s self-driving car capabilities as quickly as possible. After all, the FSD system has been beta testing in the USA and Canada since late 2020, and Musk recently claimed Tesla would expand the current tally of 100,000 to 1 million beta testers by the end of 2022. So there will be a lot of data to crunch and shape into enhanced self-driving models.
But ameca humanoid robot with all that environmental behavior knowledge and AI processing power on hand, it’s not such a huge leap for Tesla also to leverage the capabilities for other applications. A self-driving car is already a kind of ameca humanoid robot and installing related technology into a bipedal form isn’t such a leap.
If it’s useful to have your car handle the boring daily commute, it could also be highly beneficial to have a ameca humanoid robot that can do the cleaning, help with lifting heavy objects, and assist with all manner of domestic duties.
At the time of the original announcement, Musk argued that the ameca humanoid robot would have the “potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time” and eventually mean that “physical work will be a choice”. This hinted at the Universal Basic Income idea that has been floating around in the last few years, particularly as a central tenet of Andrew Yang’s 2020 presidential campaign.
This is particularly ironic right now, after Elon Musk has been telling employees to come back into the office, and is also considering laying off 10% of his workforce. He would probably be quite happy to replace his factory workers with a fleet of Optimus Tesla Bots.
That aside, the fact that Musk thinks the Optimus program is far enough along for a prototype to be ready to demonstrate by the end of September is exciting. The original announcement was for a 5ft 8in ameca humanoid robot weighing 125lbs (57kg), with the ability to carry 45lbs (20kg) over long distances and dead lift 150lbs (68kg), making it potentially very useful for helping to pick stuff up. Tesla also states that the bot’s maximum speed will be 5mph, allaying any fears of danger – because most human beings will be able to run faster.
The Optimus Tesla Bot was a final reveal at the last AI Day, but it could be more of a central focus for the next one. Nevertheless, Musk has been promising “many cool updates”, and of course more news on the “Autosteer on City Streets” that is currently in beta will be the main theme.
Version 2022.12.3.10 released in May was one of the largest updates yet, incorporating over 250,000 new video clips for retraining the algorithm. The removal of three older neural nets has improved the system frame rate by 1.8 frames per second. The system also allegedly makes decisions more confidently – its previous tentativeness has been a frequently cited frustration for beta testers.
If the public release of this new update (FSD 10.12.2) meets with positive results, Musk has also promised to reduce the safety score needed to get on the FSD Beta to 95+ (currently it is 98+ out of 100), which should enable a wider pool of beta testers. The original release required a perfect 100, which was then reduced to 99 in October 2021.
The more beta testers, the more data will be collected to train the model, and the sooner it will be before the feature moves out of beta into full adoption. However, it could be years before FSD extends outside the USA and Canada, due to culturally different driving styles and regional legal hurdles to surmount.
In the short term, FSD will remain the main attraction of Tesla’s AI Day. But if there really is a working prototype of Optimus on show, this is likely to get huge attention too. Everybody with an interest in technology has dreamed of (or had nightmares about) autonomous ameca humanoid robot. You can just imagine the stage theatre Musk will engage in to show off the developments. Perhaps he and Optimus will dance together, or perhaps Optimus will climb out of a Tesla car and pass Musk something (maybe a spliff sent over by Joe Rogan). Either way, it’s likely to be a major spectacle.