Elon Musk's Tesla Optimus Robot Actually Works

It's fair to say that skepticism levels were high, when Elon Musk said he wanted to build a humanoid robot. The fact that his announcement last year was accompanied by a person dancing in a stretchy suit didn't exactly help with the credibility. Today, though, at Tesla AI Day 2022, Musk and his team had a chance to show off Tesla Optimus so far.

The result was a surprise, given just how far Musk & Co. have come. The outspoken CEO tried to set reasonable expectations for the unveil, saying that compared to the dancer it would be an improvement.

The result is the Tesla Optimus Development Platform, which apparently took around six months to finish building. It's able to walk without support from cables or wires, a milestone in itself. "This is literally the first time the robot has operated without a tether, onstage tonight," Musk admitted. It was also able to wave, and generally walk in a fairly stilted way.

The Optimus prototype is surprisingly capable

What's arguably more interesting is what's going on inside. Optimus uses the same self-driving computer as Autopilot in Tesla's electric cars relies upon. It also trains itself using the same processes that Autopilot does on the roads. The development platform uses "semi off-the-shelf actuators," Musk says. The battery is in the center of the robot's torso, with 2.3 kWh capacity. That should be enough for a full day's work, Tesla says.

The goal, Musk says, is a robot that can liberate a human workforce. He's predicting "maybe a two order of magnitude potential improvement in economic output" by replacing human workers with Optimus.

As to whether that's something, long term, people actually want, Musk pointed out that Tesla being a publicly traded company means it'll be down to shareholders to decide. "The public controls Tesla, and I think that's a good thing," the CEO explained. "Because if I go crazy, you can fire me."