Tesla’s robot is no longer a man in a spandex suit, but I’d still rather have a Roomba

It walks! It waves! It, er, doesn't really do anything else for $20,000!

Tesla Robot 2022 hands image
(Image credit: Tesla)

Do you remember when Tesla announced its autonomous robot last year and it turned out to be a skinny man in a spandex suit gyrating to EDM? I do, so I was a bit surprised that this year's robot reveal managed to show off an actual robot. Tesla has unveiled a prototype of its Optimus humanoid robot, a robot that could have as big an impact on the world as that daft Tesla tunnel underneath Las Vegas.

It's safe to say I'm not Tesla's biggest fan, although I did laugh at the Cybertruck launch when Elon Musk threw a rock through the supposedly bulletproof glass. But it's not just me. Actual robot experts were far from thrilled by the Tesla terminator. As the Associated Press reports, AI researcher Filip Piekniewski described it as "next level cringeworthy" and a "complete and utter scam"; robotics expert Cynthia Yeung tweeted that "none of this is cutting edge" and urged Tesla to "hire some PhDs and go to some robotics conferences". 

The consensus among AI and robotics experts appears to be that Tesla is over-promising and is going to under-deliver. Which sounds awfully familiar.

Why I'd rather have a Roomba

According to Elon Musk, the price of the Optimus could be less than $20,000 / £20,000, and you'll be able to buy one in three to five years. Experts aren't convinced, not least because the only thing Optimus was able to do in the demo was to walk slowly and wave. The demonstrations of it moving things around were on video, not live. 

And Musk has a tendency to promise things he can't deliver, such as the fleet of a million robot taxis that'd be on the road by the end of 2020 (there are currently zero; the promised date is now 2024) or the fully autonomous, super-safe, self-driving Teslas he's been promising since 2015. 

As TechCrunch pointed out, the robot reveal was part of an event primarily designed to recruit new Tesla staff – and "what Tesla showed with its robot on stage at the event was a very brief demo that barely matched and definitely didn’t exceed a large number of humanoid robot demonstrations from other companies over the years, including most famously Boston Dynamics." 

Right now, the Optimus robot is less useful than a Roomba – and cynical me suspects that's going to be the case for a long time yet.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).