You didn’t understand Tesla’s economic strategy. This is exactly the message that Elon Musk conveyed during his last quarterly update. As stupid as we are, we thought the company’s main product was its increasingly self-propelled electric car. The billionaire, however, has revealed that he is betting more on Tesla’s mysterious humanoid robot project Optimus.
Mentioned for the first time last August, the idea seemed more like a fetus: no prototype was presented (a dancer in robot disguise was performing …) and the target audience was vague to say the least. We just learned that this robot will measure about 1.70 meters, will have a face-screen and will be able to “do everything people don’t want to do” (detailed program). However, Elon Musk has been campaigning for the first version of the robot since 2023. “It simply came to our notice then. People will realize that Optimus will eventually be more valuable than the car market and more valuable than self-driving. I’m sure. “So, do we really lack Vista?
Robotics has indeed made tremendous progress over the last ten years, and the think tank Edit estimates that by 2030 it will weigh 90 billion euros. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have given these machines such valuable knowledge: vision. “Robots can now locate objects where they should be placed in boxes,” explains Gene-Baptist Muret, AI in Inria and expert research director in robotics.
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Gone are the days when these bolt mates worked in cages to avoid accidentally harming employees. “We now know how to better measure the power of industrial robots and identify interactions with them. So they can work closer to the growing human population,” the expert noted. And in the great race of robotic advances, the regiment of humanoids has won some excellent medals.
A stunning realistic face
After promoting its dog robot spot pirouettes, Boston Dynamics has captivated the public with its Atlas, its bipedal robot capable of running, jumping and somersault. British Engineered Arts, for its part, created the event with its Ameka robot with breathtaking realistic facial expressions. In her show, the humanoid, covered in artificial skin, “wakes up”, looks foggy and blinks her eyes, examines her arms and hands questioningly, then shows deep surprise when she pretends to discover her body. And everything rings incredibly true.
However, Elon Musk seems to be forgetting the huge challenges facing the Tesla sector in general and in particular a little faster. “Right now, every humanoid robot on the planet has been individually created by hand,” explained Justin Carpentier, an Inner researcher. And given the technical challenges involved in their design, this may not change anytime soon. If humanoids now have a stable leg, it almost ends there. “They still have trouble managing extra contact points, on a wall, on a ramp, or holding fairly heavy objects,” explains Jean-Baptiste Murrett. Those who dream of taking their shopping bags to the supermarket will have to wait …
Tesla came running too late. Admittedly, Elon Musk’s company’s computer “Vision” has the capability: its built-in software that powers the car is the most advanced. But if the eyes are “windows of the soul”, then they are only a tiny part of a human robot. A Boston Dynamics thus has a huge lead over Tesla in everything else, especially the way these mechanical companies move. And even in this sector this heavyweight can only “make its incredible achievements in a highly regulated structure, and certainly not on the first try”, believes expert Justin Carpentier.
To attract talent to Optimus, Batik released the billionaire checkbook. “They offer salaries ranging from $ 200,000 to $ 300,000,” said one robotics researcher. Not sure, however, it is enough to catch a quick deposit delay. The last shadow of the table that Elon painted for us (and perhaps the most worrying): the question of the very relevance of the humanoid form for a robot. Of course, creating creations in his sculpture is a fad that has been working with people throughout the ages. But once the “wow” effect of these machines is cut off, what is their real value added? The question is very important, because these robots that look like us cost a fortune
“The price of a humanoid robot is too high”
Humanoid forms actually require much more complex modules than others (for example, a few thousand standard components and more than 1,000 tailors for Ameka robots). “The problem is that the human body depends on many axes: the wrist, the elbow, the ankle, the knee … so we must reproduce all of this with mechanical axes and motorized systems,” explained Cyril Cabbara, founder and CEO of Shark Robotics, a Frenchman. The company has chosen the more classic robotic form for its part As a result, the bill is painful and “the cost of a humanoid robot is usually 10 factors higher than a more conventional shaped robot”, believes an expert in the sector.
In order for the customer to swallow this pill, it is better to be able to prove that his metal bipod brings a lot of added value. And this is where the shoe manufacturers pinches. Because in many situations people are actually much more competitive. “No humanoid robot rivals their abilities, justifiably acknowledging Will Jackson, CEO of Engineered Arts. People self-repair and self-replicate. They maintain a good form for about fifty days. Years and very intelligent.” Even for seemingly simple tasks, this insight makes all the difference. “Robots are mostly on machines that are programmed for once, unable to adapt to an unexpected situation,” explained Jean-Baptiste Muret, director of Inria research.
If they are more aesthetically pleasing, then humanoids have trouble competing with more basic robots in many cases. An example? Their battery life is short. An entire part of the robot’s activity (environmental analysis, etc.) occurs when it is stationary. But for a bipedal device, standing still is a completely different challenge than robots on wheels or on tracks: humanoids must activate their motorized systems and constantly micro-correct them to maintain their precarious balance.
“Working for one hour remains a challenge for them, while manufacturers often require devices with a minimum of four hours of autonomy,” said Cyril Kabbara of Shark Robotics. If a robot wakes up and throws something in the training room, it will not always be the most effective. Robots on wheels carry much heavier loads. Tracked machines will play on loose soil where humanoids are likely to sink.
Another problem is that bipedes and quadrupeds cannot move very fast. Where the smooth dog spot of Boston Dynamics travels at a speed of 6 kilometers per hour, the shark’s barracuda crawler runs at 20 kilometers per hour. “Not even a humanoid robot will be able to lift heavy loads. This requires stability and a huge counterweight,” highlights Christian Lupse, an expert at handling equipment dealer Aprolis.
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Ultimately, the humanoid form is quite limited in situations where it provides a decisive advantage. For high-risk interventions (nuclear sites after accidents, space missions, etc.), there is a clear interest in such robots. “These devices can be hidden in complex and dangerous environments where wheeled robots will not pass and where humans can be injured,” explains the Enrique Jean-Baptiste Muret. But for a more rhythmic situation, the interest in humanoid robots seems to be low. Elon Musk’s enthusiastic commitment to anyone who sees that his Optimus is helping us in the medium term both in the factory and at home seems so incredible. But we say just to be surprised.
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