Elon Musk Unveils 'Optimus' Robot After 2018 Fiasco With 'Fluff Bot'
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk blamed overreliance on factory robots for sending the electric carmaker to "production hell" four years ago, saying humans were better at certain jobs. My, how times have changed, Hyunjoo Jin reported for Reuters.
Photo Insert: Optimus on display at this year's Tesla annual stockholders meeting
Musk's Texas company now is floating ambitious plans to deploy thousands of humanoid robots, known as Tesla Bot or Optimus, within its factories, expanding eventually to millions around the world, according to job postings.
Buzz is building within the company as Tesla is having more internal meetings on robots, a person familiar with the matter said. Longer term, Musk said at a TED Talk robots could be used in homes, making dinner, mowing the lawn and caring for elderly people, and even becoming a "buddy" or a "catgirl" sex partner.
The robot business eventually may be worth more than Tesla's car revenue, according to Musk, who is now touting a vision for the company that goes well beyond making self-driving electric vehicles.
At its "AI Day" on Sept. 30, Tesla will unveil a prototype from its project Optimus, an allusion to the powerful and benevolent leader of the Autobots in the Transformers series. Production could start next year, Musk said. Analysts see more pageant than product.
"It's all part of distracting people and giving them the next shiny object to chase after," Guidehouse Insights analyst Sam Abuelsamid said. "Investors are not excited about Optimus," said Gene Munster, managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures, which holds Tesla stocks.
"It's just such a low probability that it works at scale," he said, saying it is "infinitely harder than self-driving cars."
And then there is Musk's own experience with robots in the factory. During the 2018 production hell, Musk specifically noted the problems of the "fluff bot," an assembly robot that failed to perform simple tasks that human hands can do - picking up pieces of "fluff" and placing them on batteries.
He said the cost of having technicians maintain the complicated robot far exceeded that of hiring someone to do the assembly.
The fluff bot is "a funny example but drives home the point that autonomy often doesn't generalize well, and so handling soft fluffy material that isn't as predictable as a rigid part was causing a huge problem," Aaron Johnson, a mechanical engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said.