Elon Musk Recently Postponed Tesla’s Second AI Day from August 19º until September 30º. We’re all used to Tesla’s slippery deadlines, but the reasons for this one are intriguing. In a tweet, Musk blamed the delay the possibility that they might have a working humanoid robot to show at that point.
The humanoid robot, named Optimus (presumably a reference to the Transformers, and formerly known as the Tesla Bot), was one of the big announcements from the last AI Day in August 2021. For some, the Optimus reveal was a little tricky, because they thought that Tesla’s AI technology and Project Dojo supercomputer were uniquely 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 US and Canada since late 2020, and Musk recently claimed that Tesla would expand the current count from 100,000 to 1 million beta testers by the end of 2022. So there will be a lot of data to crunch. and mold into improved autonomous driving models.
But with all this knowledge of environmental behavior and AI processing power in hand, it’s not such a big leap for Tesla to also leverage the capabilities for other applications. A self-driving car is already something of a robot, and installing related technology into a bipedal form is not such a big leap. If it’s helpful to have your car to deal with the boring daily commute, it can also be highly beneficial to have a robot that can do the cleaning, help lift heavy objects, and assist with all sorts of household chores.
At the time of the original announcement, Musk argued that the humanoid robot would have the “potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time” and would eventually mean that “physical labor will be a choice.” This hinted at the Universal Basic Income idea that has been making the rounds in recent years, particularly as a central tenet of Andrew Yang’s 2020 presidential campaign. This is particularly ironic now, after Elon Musk told employees to get back to the office and is also considering lay off 10% of its workforce. He would probably be quite happy to replace his factory workers with a fleet of Optimus Tesla Bots.
Other than that, the fact that Musk thinks the Optimus program is far enough along that a prototype will be ready to be demonstrated by the end of September is exciting. The original ad was for a 5-foot 8-inch robot weighing 125 pounds (57 kg), capable of carrying 45 pounds (20 kg) over long distances and deadlifting 150 pounds (68 kg), making it potentially very handy to help pick things up. Tesla also claims the bot’s top speed will be 5 mph, allaying any fear of danger – because most humans will be able to run faster.
The Optimus Tesla Bot was a final reveal on the last AI Day, but it could be more of a central focus for the next. However, Musk has been promising “lots of cool updates”, and of course more news about the “Autosteer on City Streets” which is currently in beta will be the main topic. Version 2022.12.3.10 released in May it was one of the biggest updates so far, incorporating over 250,000 new video clips to retrain the algorithm. Removing three older neural networks improved the system frame rate by 1.8 frames per second. The system also reportedly makes decisions with more confidence – its previous attempt has been an oft-cited frustration for beta testers.
If the public release of this new update (FSD 10.12.2) sees positive results, Musk has also promised to lower the security score required to enter the FSD Beta to 95+ (it is currently 98+ out of 100), which should allow for a more wide range of beta testers. The original version required a perfect 100, which was 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 leaves beta for full adoption. However, it may be years before the FSD extends beyond the US and Canada, due to culturally different driving styles and regional legal hurdles to overcome.
In the short term, the FSD will continue to be the main attraction of Tesla’s AI Day. But if there really is a working Optimus prototype on display, it’s likely to get a lot of attention as well. Everyone with an interest in technology has dreamed of (or had nightmares about) autonomous robots. You can imagine the stage theater that Musk will be involved in to show the developments. Maybe he and Optimus dance together, or maybe Optimus gets out of a Tesla car and passes something to Musk (maybe a joint sent by Joe Rogan). Either way, it’s likely to be a great show.