Tesla's Humanoid Optimus Robot Explained as Elon Musk Says It's a Priority for 2022

Tesla boss Elon Musk said "the most important product development" the company plans for 2022 is its humanoid robot.

Musk commented on Tesla's fourth-quarter earnings call, held on Wednesday afternoon. He described last year as a "breakthrough" period for the company and for electric vehicles more generally.

Tesla's followers may be enthusiastically awaiting the company's upcoming vehicles like the Roadster and Cybertruck, but Musk appeared to place his priority on what he called "Optimus," a 5'8" robot that was revealed at the company's Artificial Intelligence (AI) day in August last year.

If the move seems bizarre for a company that makes cars, Musk suggested at the time that the robot is in fact a natural progression for Tesla since its vehicle models "are like semi-sentient robots on wheels" due to their neural networks and software gadgetry, and that "it kind of makes sense to put that on to a humanoid form."

During his August presentation, Musk claimed that the robot, then referred to as the "Tesla Bot," would weigh 125 pounds, walk at a speed of five miles per hour, have a carrying capacity of 45 pounds and be capable of deadlifting 150 pounds.

He added that the robot would have the same AI computer and "autopilot cameras" that Tesla vehicles have.

Some analysts were immediately unsure about whether or not the Tesla Bot was a realistic or even serious proposal—perhaps partly because Tesla introduced it by dressing someone up in a robot costume and having them dance on stage.

James Vincent of The Verge highlighted that Boston Dynamics, a company that has regularly wowed audiences with cutting-edge bipedal robot performances for years, is still not close to the commercial deployment of a two-legged model.

But Musk stated that the Tesla Bot "will be real" with the company aiming for a prototype this year. He said he envisions the robot will be able to carry out menial labor and potentially more tasks.

Testing the Robots

In yesterday's earnings call, Musk said the robot, apparently being called "Optimus" internally, would first be put to use on Tesla's factory floors, "moving parts around the factory or something like that."

He said he considers the future robot as having "the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time," adding: "The foundation of the economy is labor. Capital equipment is distilled labor.

"So, what happens if you don't actually have a labor shortage? I'm not sure what an economy even means at that point. That's what Optimus is about."

At the time of writing, the "Tesla Bot" had a mention at the bottom of Tesla's AI webpage, with the company noting that it is seeking engineers to help it implement AI "beyond our vehicle fleet."

Tesla robot
An illustration of Tesla's Optimus robot, left, and Elon Musk, right, seen at an event in Berlin in December, 2020. Musk has said a robot prototype could be ready this year. Tesla/AFP/Getty/Pool/Hannibal Hanschke