The Tesla-Bot. What’s special about it (and what it lacks)

Our very own CEO Guy Altagar was interviewed on tech12 News about Elon Musk’s brand-new robot prototype. Here is what he had to say. (Translated from Hebrew)


Yesterday in the early hours of the morning, Elon Musk unveiled "Optimus", the new robot that the teams at Tesla have been working on for a long time. This immediately created a huge media buzz and theoretical discussions such as whether the Skynet network is forming right in front of our eyes (remember the "Terminator" dystopian future?) and we are all going to perish, or whether it is a lifeline for many families that can help them with tasks such as folding laundry and ironing.


Although there were some very impressive elements on display, it is also important to raise several questions about Musk's new product, which he claimed will be available on the market in three to five years, for about $20,000 per unit.


Let's start with the impressive stuff:


1. Hands and degrees of freedom:

Musk claims Optimus' arm has 11 degrees of freedom, with the main focus being the hand. This is a very impressive figure and the complex engineering of grasping objects is a challenging problem in the field of robotics. This is a fairly significant innovation in the world of robotics since the possibility of grasping several objects with different densities, and different textures - can increase the productivity of the robot. I know it may sound trivial; a human can grab a blanket, a hard-boiled egg, or a bottle quite easily. But to a robot? It's not that simple. There is a pretty good chance that Tesla's robot can solve quite a few of these cases, and that is pretty amazing.


2. Tesla image processing system:

Tesla, as a car company, has one of the best image processing systems in the world. They also have enough data to understand the environment using cameras. Musk and his team have applied this principle to the robot as well, and it is extremely impressive. While they didn't show any real functionality during the demo, from the videos they shared, including a video about how Optimus understands its environment, it seems that the robot is going to apply everything tesla learned in the past years about image recognition.


3. Shining a light on problems in the market that have existed for a long time and offering a solution that is not futuristic, but happening here and now.

Musk believes in the product (currently in a prototype version), which he himself calls part of the revolution that humanity is going through now (he defined it as "a future of abundance"). It is important to understand that Musk is actually Shining a light on a problem that exists (and many businesses know it): the workers in blue-collar jobs - have disappeared.

It is important to understand that Musk did not say that robots will replace humans, but the purpose of the robot is to replace workers who no longer want to work in jobs that are required for production. The difference is subtle but huge.


Some questions I was left with:


1. The absence of lidar:

This is an interesting question for discussion because I noticed that the robot does not include lidar, but operates entirely through camera input. This has many advantages but also a few disadvantages. Let me explain: LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) is a hardware component, relatively common in the automotive and traffic worlds, which enables the understanding and measurement of distances in the environment using a laser. In some cases, it is a central component of the technology and in some a backup component for cameras, but Tesla apparently decided that it is not needed at all.


This means that Tesla's robot has to rely on cameras alone, a matter that raises several questions: How many cameras are needed to really understand the robot's environment? What are the qualities of those cameras? What happens in case these cameras shut down? Isn't this an unusual violation of a person's privacy (Lidar does not take pictures. It activates laser beams)? These questions will ultimately be answered by the robot through its functionality.


2. Legs:

One of the things that stood out in the unveiling was the clumsy and slow way in which the robot moved. I don't think anyone has the answer as to whether it is better for a robot to have legs or wheels and in my opinion - it very much depends on the goal you want to achieve. On the one hand, some will say that a robot's base should be very heavy in order to create stability or the ability to lift heavy objects and still maintain balance and not fall. On the other hand, huge companies like Boston Dynamics and Agility Robotics produce humanoid robots with a pair of legs, to allow them flexibility in movement, but when you examine their functionality - you find that to lift heavy weights (for example boxes in a factory or warehouse), a very large set of Expensive motors is required - something that makes this system very costly and not necessarily worthwhile.


Another point is the ability to deal with obstacles such as sidewalks or stairs. There is no doubt that legs may make the matter easier, but at the price of instability that is not necessarily profitable for the manufacturer or the customer, and Musk himself admitted that they released the robot from his tether a few minutes before the event.


3. Human-machine communication (Human-Robot Interaction):

It was one of the things that bothered me the most about the show because it just wasn't there (and no, waving is not communicating with people). Humans are afraid of machines. Well, maybe not all humans, but most of them. The field of human-machine communication (HRI) is a fascinating and very broad field. I have not seen a single communication between Musk and the robot that is visual (e.g. a screen) or behavioral, and in my opinion - there is no escape from dealing with how people will accept robots in their work and living environment. This world must be made accessible to them to ease their psychological fear of a world they don't yet understand (putting the Matrix trilogy and Terminator aside).


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