Tesla: Robotics, Not Cars

Tesla has announced that it’s not a car company. It’s a robotics company. Quartz shared the news with a ho-hum about the latest Optimus video.

Optimus, you may recall, is the humanoid robot that Elon Musk has been bragging about for years. Its first public appearance was in the form of a human in a lycra bodysuit. Its latest showing is a video starring Optimus putting batteries into a tray and strolling slowly around an empty office.

We think an ordinary industrial robot could do the battery-placement task faster and better than Optimus, as could a human, but it looks better than most robots walking around. We assume the empty room is a safety precaution, which makes us question whether the bot is as good as it needs to be at navigation.

We weren’t impressed, either, but Best in Tesla was pretty breathless about it, interspersing the same footage with car ad style shots of Tesla cars and screenshots of tweets about Optimus.

To market, to market

Last month, Musk announced that the Optimus robot will be available for purchase by the end of 2025, and that it should cost half the price of a car (we figure he means half the price of a Tesla car).  he said that Optimus is Tesla’s most valuable product, “Because if you’ve got a sentient humanoid robot that is able to navigate reality and do tasks at request, there is no meaningful limit to the size of the economy.”

“We should be thought of as an AI or robotics company,” Musk said. “If you value Tesla as just like an auto company, fundamentally, it’s just the wrong framework, and if you ask the wrong question, then the right answer is impossible.” Business Insider linked these claims to the recent slip in Tesla’s financial position.

The first section of their Careers page on AI and Robotics reads

Tesla Bot

Create a general purpose, bi-pedal, autonomous humanoid robot capable of performing unsafe, repetitive or boring tasks. Achieving that end goal requires building the software stacks that enable balance, navigation, perception and interaction with the physical world. We’re hiring deep learning, computer vision, motion planning, controls, mechanical and general software engineers to solve some of our hardest engineering challenges.

If this is Job 1 for Tesla, they may be a robotics company that happened to start by making cars. After all, Rexroth could be seen as an industrial automation and mobile machine control company that started out making a water-driven forge.

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