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Elon Musk debuts Tesla’s first humanoid robot with eye on mass market

Elon Musk has unveiled a prototype of Tesla’s humanoid robot Optimus, which the electric car maker aims to mass produce in the millions and sell for under £18,000.

The billionaire tycoon said he expected the company would be ready to take orders in three to five years.

Musk said the venture could outstrip that of Tesla’s electric vehicle business.

Image: The latest streamlined model had to be rolled out. Pic: Tesla

The firm’s push to design and build mass-market robots that would also be tested by doing jobs in its factories sets it apart from other manufacturers that have experimented with humanoid machines.

The debut of the prototype robots at Tesla’s office in Palo Alto, California, forms part of Mr Musk’s bid to position Tesla as a leader in fields such as artificial intelligence and not just a company that makes “cool cars”.

An experimental test robot, with exposed wires and electronics, which Tesla said was developed in February, walked out slowly onto a stage, turned and waved to a cheering crowd at an event on Friday.

The company also showed a video of it doing simple tasks, such as watering plants, carrying boxes and lifting metal bars at a production station at the company’s California plant.

But a more streamlined current model, which Mr Musk said was closer to what he hoped to put into production, had to be rolled out and did a slow wave to the audience.

Mr Musk, who cofounded the electronic-payment firm PayPal and formed the rocket manufacturer SpaceX, called the robot Optimus and said it would be able to walk “in a few weeks”.

He added: “There’s still a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and prove it.”

But he went on: “I think Optimus is going to be incredible in five or 10 years, like mind-blowing.”

Image: An experimental test robot walked out slowly onto the stage. Pic: Tesla

Musk said existing humanoid robots were “missing a brain” and the ability to solve problems on their own.

By contrast, he said, Optimus would be an “extremely capable robot”.

While other carmakers, including Toyota and Honda have developed humanoid robot prototypes capable of doing complicated tasks, Tesla is alone in pursuing the opportunity for a mass-market robot that could also be used in factory work.

The next-generation Tesla bot will use Tesla-designed components, including a 2.3-kWh battery pack carried in its torso, and is designed to weigh 73kg.

Tesla engineers, who like Musk were all wearing black T-shirts with an image of metallic robotic hands making a heart shape, described how they developed the robot’s features, including in areas like how the fingers move, with a focus on making the cost of production lower.

“We are trying to follow the goal of fastest path to a useful robot that can be made at volume,” Musk said.

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Image: The earlier prototype turned and waved to a cheering crowd. Pic: Tesla

Musk, who has spoken before about the risks of artificial intelligence, said the mass rollout of robots had the potential to “transform civilisation” and create “a future of abundance, a future of no poverty”.

Many reactions on social media were positive, focusing on the speed of Tesla’s development effort since August last year when Tesla announced its project with a stunt that had a person in a white suit simulate a humanoid robot.

Henri Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University, said the price target of $20,000 (£17,937) was a “good proposition” since current costs are about $100,000 (£89,686) for humanoid robots.

But he said: “There’s some discrepancy between sort of the ambition and what they have presented.

“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.”