The challenges automakers, and now Tesla, face with humanoid robots

Tesla's humanoid robots, Optimus, will be initially used in manufacturing and logistics for boring and repetitive work, thus addressing a labour shortage

September 21, 2022 11:37 am | Updated 06:04 pm IST - SAN FRANCISCO

A file photo of the Tesla logo

A file photo of the Tesla logo | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Tesla's CEO Elon Musk is set to unveil its prototype humanoid robots at an event on September 30, hoping to expand beyond self-driving cars that have not yet become reality despite his repeated promises.

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While robots are widely used for specialist tasks at factories, other companies have struggled to create commercially viable human-like robots, despite decades-long development efforts.

"This market is very, very challenging market because you buy this big expensive robot, but it actually cannot do much," Heni Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University, said.

Tesla

Tesla's humanoid robots, Optimus, will be initially used in manufacturing and logistics for boring and repetitive work, thus addressing a labour shortage.

For the longer term, Musk said the robot could be used in homes, even becoming a "buddy" or a "catgirl" sex partner.

Honda

Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co.’s Asimo bipedal robot had served as a face for the company but was not commercialised after more than two decades of development. Honda is now focusing on disaster relief robots and "Avatar" robots for tasks like remote surgery.

Honda aims to demonstrate the Avatar robot before early 2024 and deploy the machines in the 2030s.

GM-NASA

From 2007 to 2012, General Motors and NASA joined hands to develop humanoid robots, R2, for assembly and space exploration.

NASA said that they are not under development anymore. NASA said its current focus is the development of next-generation humanoid robots that can be used on the lunar surface and eventually on Mars.

Hyundai Motor-Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics created internet buzz with videos of its humanoid robots running, jumping, backflipping and dancing. But the loss-making U.S. company changed hands several times, with Alphabet Inc.'s Google, SoftBank and then Hyundai Motor Co. becoming the company's owner.

Hyundai and Boston Dynamics said in August that they will initially invest more than $400 million in a "research-first organization" on AI and robotics.

Ford-agility robotics

In 2020, Ford bought two humanoid robots, Digit, from Agility Robotics, to test the delivery of a package to doorstop from a delivery vehicle.

Oregon-based startup Agility Robotics is also working to deploy human-like robots that can pick up and move items at warehouses.

Softbank, other

SoftBank’s wide-eyed Pepper robot, which helped burnish Chief Executive Masayoshi Son’s image as a forward-looking tech entrepreneur, saw production halted.

Several robot startups like Rethink Robotics also went out of business, as they failed to commercialise their products.

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