Jan 27, 2022 - Economy

Elon Musk says Tesla is prioritizing development of a robot

Elon Musk in Wilmington, Delaware, in July 2021.

Elon Musk in Wilmington, Delaware, in July 2021. Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on an earnings call Wednesday that the company will prioritize the development of a robot meant to perform tasks that now can only be carried out by humans.

Why it matters: Musk said he believes the robot "has the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time" and could revolutionize the economy by making labor constraints irrelevant.

The "Tesla Bot," unveiled during a Tesla event in August, is a humanoid robot that uses same technology that's used in the company's cars.

  • Musk said then that he hoped to have a working prototype of the robot, dubbed Optimus, unveiled in 2022.

What they're saying: "The foundation of the economy is labor,” he said during the call Wednesday.

  • "Capital equipment is distilled labor. So what happens if you don’t actually have a labor shortage? I’m not sure what an economy even means at that point. That’s what Optimus is about," he added.
  • While unveiling Optimus in August, Musk said he believes that a universal basic income will eventually be needed when the rise of robotics and automation renders physical work a choice.

Thought bubble, from Axios Transportation correspondent Joann Muller: Musk is a master of distraction. He often floats half-baked sci-fi ideas to dazzle people at a time when other things aren’t going well.

  • Right now, Tesla is behind on plans to introduce a battery-powered semi truck, a “Cybertruck” pickup and a next-generation roadster.
  • Missing deadlines is nothing new for Tesla — making automobiles is difficult, especially for newcomers — and the company usually gets there eventually. But for Musk and Tesla, it’s also about keeping the magic going — and the stock propped up.

The big picture: It's unclear how Musk's aspiration for the robot will work out within the context of the global computer chip shortage.

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