Investors Are Not Psyched for Elon Musk’s ‘Optimus’ Humanoid Robot

Creating Elon Musk’s army of worker droids is “infinitely harder than self-driving cars” but he’s trying to anyway

Tesla boss and space bro Elon Musk is mulling major plans to send thousands of humanoid robots, called Tesla Bot or “Optimus,” to work inside its factories, according to Reuters. Long-term, the plan is to expand them to millions around the world, starting with roughly 20 job postings seeking droid fanciers to work on the bots—for instance, designing key parts such as actuators. And Tesla is holding more robot-focused internal meetings, a person with knowledge on the matter said.

In fact, Tesla’s robot biz could eventually be worth more than Tesla’s car revenue, according to Musk’s high-flying ideas. He is now selling a vision for the company that extends far beyond building self-driving electric vehicles. In fact, he once said at a TED Talk that such robots could be used inside the home, performing tasks from domestic chores, caring for the old, and even acting as a sex partner.

Humanoid robots have been in development for decades by Honda Motor and Hyundai Motor’s Boston Dynamics unit. Much like self-driving cars, the robots are good with certain basic tasks but, much like an R2 unit with a bad motivator, are not so reliable when it comes to “unpredictable situations.” In other words, it wouldn’t currently be possible for the nonhumans to operate like people, although that’s what Musk envisions for the future.

“Self-driving cars weren’t really proved to be as easy as anyone thought. And it’s the same way with humanoid robots to some extent,” the lead of NASA’s Dexterous Robotics Team, Shaun Azimi, told Reuters.

“If something unexpected happens, being flexible and robust to those kinds of changes is very difficult.”

Optimus—whose name comes from the always honest, brave, loyal and forthright leader of the Autobots in The Transformers toys, cartoons and movies, Optimus Prime—would start out like typical factory robots, performing tasks like moving objects from one place to the other. But according to the company’s job postings, Tesla is hiring scores of people to work on “humanoid bi-pedal” robots, with about 20 job postings for work on the on “Tesla Bot,” according to the the New York Post.

“The code you will write will at term run in millions of humanoid robots across the world, and will therefore be held to high quality standards,” one of the job ads said.

An important group remains skeptical: “Investors are not excited about Optimus,” Gene Munster, managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures, which holds Tesla stocks, told Reuters. “It’s just such a low probability that it works at scale.” Munster added that creating robots is “infinitely harder than self-driving cars.”

At its upcoming “AI Day” on September 30, Tesla will unveil a prototype for its Optimus project. Musk claims production could start next year.

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