Not so long ago, in 2018, Elon Musk said at a tech conference that AI can be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. The same man revealed a brand-new AI-powered prototype robot called Optimus on the recent Tesla AI Day 2022. The robot introduced itself with slender movements and, what you can say, a warm wave to the audience.
Surprisingly, however, as soon as the news came out, people started to compare Tesla’s Bot with Boston Dynamic robots, especially their humanoid Atlas. But is it rational to compare a mere prototype robot that was built within only eight months with a robotics empire?
Is Boston Dynamic in Trouble?
Boston Dynamics is a spin-off engineering and robotics design company of MIT that was built in 1992. The company has been developing and designing robots since its inception. The robots introduced by the company were mainly quadrupedal and often developed for military use. Only recently in 2019, the company introduced its new commercial robot named Spot. But, Boston Dynamic astonished the world with a short video of its first humanoid robot named Atlas. The internet has seen Atlas doing parkour, speedy leaps, and literal geometrical jumping. This has immediately raised the expectation for the future of robotics among people.
The expectation got a level higher after Tesla introduced Optimus. In 2021, Elon Musk pranked the audience with an actual human wearing a robot suit and dancing on the stage. However, He promised to bring a real robot on the stage the very next year that would be developed and designed by Tesla, and he gracefully kept his word. Besides presenting the prototype on stage, Elon has also shown videos from both first-person and third-person perspectives on how Optimus works.
And this is what has kindled the comparison between the two humanoids. In the videos, Optimus was seen completing tasks like watering a plant while gripping the narrow handle of the water can, picking up boxes, and putting them on different shelves. Optimus might not be as agile as Atlas, but it sure is smart and has the machine-learning capability.
With the background data being established for the comparison, we can move on to see the traits and limitations of Atlas. Atlas has 28 hydraulic actuators that allow the robot to move fast. Atlas has a dynamic movement speed of 2.5 meters per second and the capability to execute agile locomotives. And with a weight of 89 kg, the humanoid is able to run, jump, laps and backflips. But are they generated by the robot’s AI though? No. Everything Atlas does is carefully programmed. The surroundings are positioned based on the program, and Atlas is only able to detect them and demonstrate its speed.
Being said that, if we look at other robots made by Boston Dynamic, we can see the company has a dominating portfolio in quadrupeds robots, one of them named Spot, is also commercialized recently. But the dominance in the market for this type of robot is getting weak as other companies, including ANYbotics and Unitree, are successfully selling their quadrupeds. Also, the price of Spot, the first commercial robot of Boston Dynamic, is $74500, which is madly higher than other competitors, not to mention, what Spot is capable of can also be done by other robots.
Now let’s look at the specifications of Optimus as presented in AI Day. Tesla Bot is lighter than Atlas. It has a similar number of actuators with 11 degrees of freedom in its hand. But Atlas remains superior in terms of speed. One of the most promising technologies of Tesla Bot is its super-strong vision. Tesla has already used this technology in its cars, and Optimus is the upgraded version that can detect objects more specifically and navigate different environments. Atlas is not quite advanced in this field.
Another important feature of Tesla Bot is that it is designed to do the repetitive and tedious human jobs that are usually done in factories. An engineer in AI Day shared that Optimus is hoped to be used in the factory of Tesla to test its capacities. When we think about humanoid robots as shaped by sci-fi stories or movies, we think of them doing chores that we humans find boring. Tesla Bot is an embodiment of this fantasy which can be truly useful if developed as planned. Tesla Bot is also cheaper at only $20000, making it more suitable for commercial purposes. Atlas is undoubtedly expensive considering the technology used behind it for years which makes it disqualified to be used for commercial or production purposes.
Most importantly, the fact that has stirred the internet and started comparing Tesla Bot and Atlas. It has been said before that Atlas is highly programmed with unbelievable speed and agility. The movements this piece of technology shows is truly remarkable. But in the case of Tesla Bot, one of the most powerful supercomputers named Dojo, owned by Tesla, is backing up the machine intelligence of the robot. This allows Tesla Bot to navigate the environment more sophistically with real-world intelligence.
Tesla is trying to modify and apply the technology of its cars to develop Optimus. Even though the technique is smart, there is a major loophole also. Cars are for roads and operated by individuals whereas Optimus is built to do tasks independently in a factory. So, a question arises whether the chosen technology is suitable or not. However, it is also certain that even if this tech cannot develop Optimus as per the expectations, Tesla can always find a solution with the help of AI and its supercomputer, Dojo.
Another consideration that puts Tesla Bot ahead of Boston Dynamic is funding. Boston Dynamic has experienced many changes in ownership. DARPA, Alphabet Inc. and SoftBank Group are some big-name owners of the company who bought and sold the firm over time. The most recent owner of the company is Hyundai with an 80% stake. Unfortunately, the 30-year-old still needs funding issues to commercialize its products after spending years on research and development. Tesla Bot, on the other hand, Tesla Bot has both funding and a team of tech experts that creates better scope for the project to succeed.
“Comparing two humanoids is more challenging than it seems. The functions, purpose, and backgrounds of Atlas and Optimus are very different. While Atlas has been developed for several years as part of a research of Boston Dynamic, Optimus is developed in only eight months with the goal of creating a general-purpose robot. But the features of these two robots are completely different. Boston Dynamic has already amazed us with the movements of Atlas that cannot be done by humans. This robot is still undergoing research and development, just like Tesla Bot. On the other hand, Tesla has its technology of car manufacturing that can be leveraged to make Optimus useful in a brief time, as expressed by Elon. The robot would be commercially available too with fewer prices than cars.”
To conclude, Tesla Bot has a clear goal, a plan to become commercially available, and properly stated functions. Most importantly, this robot has one of the most powerful tech companies behind it, with a CEO who has a bigger vision to make robots a useful part of human life. The addition of machine language brings it way forward in the comparison. Atlas is far more complete in terms of design and experiments but with programmed functions. Boston Dynamic sure has its plans with Atlas. But if it fails to make careful decisions from this point, nothing stops Optimus from becoming more dominant in the near future.