Tesla Optimus Folds Clothes! … Pisses Off Some Tesla FSD Buyers

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Elon Musk tweeted a video yesterday of a Tesla Optimus robot folding a shirt. My first impression was: Holy cow! That’s not actually a simple task! And Optimus is doing it so well! But then …

Elon followed that tweet with a clarification: “Important note: Optimus cannot yet do this autonomously, but certainly will be able to do this fully autonomously and in an arbitrary environment (won’t require a fixed table with box that has only one shirt).” So, yeah, it’s not folding clothes autonomously as we initially thought. That would have been mind blowing.

The Multi-Year FSD Fail

Interestingly, I first noticed this tweet in a Tesla Motors Club post, and the person’s take on it was not great, as was the take of the first responder, and the third responder. Of course, forums are full of complaints, but I thought that each of them made some solid and interesting points, so let’s dive in.

The person who posted it provided the following comment: “It’s 2024, now 6 years after FSD was promised by years end.

“Most of us have paid between 5-15k for this, are not allowed to transfer this feature that was never delivered to a new car (other than one short window must of us could not take advantage of), and still stuck with a beta that we are training for them instead of it being used what we paid serious amount of cash for.

“And Musk is here touting a robot folding shirts, instead of focusing on delivering product sold to many people 6 years ago.

“Not cool…”

There are a few issues to unpack here. For sure, there have been grand claims of true full self driving capability for 6 years. In 2019, I thought they had gotten quite serious. I bought my Tesla Model 3 SR+ then and paid $6,000 for the Full Self Driving (FSD) suite. At the time, Elon Musk was saying that FSD should be “feature complete” by the end of 2019. That didn’t mean it would be robotaxi ready, just that the car would be able to drive from Point A to Point B with supervision. With rapid refinement from all the miles Tesla would collect, and eventually regulatory approval, the cars would eventually be capable of operating as robotaxis. Tesla had presented on the revenue potential for Tesla robotaxis competing with Ubers and everything. The big uncertainty was supposed to be regulatory approval. The software was supposed to be ready to roll before long, but Elon was hopefully that the company would even pass that stage in 2020.

It was a few months after my car was delivered that Elon updated everyone with the news that they had to deeply rework their approach and that was taking several months before progress would be seen again. (I have the hunch that Elon discovered this and started the process around the time I got my car, which was in August 2019, but who knows?) So, the 2019 target was missed. But then, in July 2020, Elon was adamant that Tesla FSD would be getting close to robotaxi capability by the end of the year, and would reach full Level 5 autonomy soon. “I’m extremely confident that Level 5 or essentially complete autonomy will happen, and I think will happen very quickly,” Musk said. “I think at Tesla, I feel like we are very close to Level 5 autonomy. I think — I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for Level 5 autonomy complete this year.”

Clearly, that time came and went. In 2021, Musk was again bullish on achieving something like robotaxi capability, if not robotaxi capability, by the end of the year. And then in 2022. In 2023, he held his tongue a little more, but still hyped up FSD progress.

For people like me who bought FSD nearly 5 years ago, the target usefulness for the cost has not been achieved. Dreams of operating Tesla robotaxis have died. Thousands of dollars have been spent and lost by many an FSD buyer. Were there disclaimers? Yes. Were there promises? Not exactly, but close — very close. The fact is that targets have been massively missed and many FSD buyers are bitter about this, even more so since we can’t even transfer the feature to a new Tesla! There was just one small window to do so. Otherwise, if you spent thousands of dollars on FSD and need a new car now and still dream of robotaxi-level (Level 5 or even Level 4 autonomy), Tesla won’t say, “Our bad. We missed our target. You can have FSD on your next Tesla pro bono.” Nope. Instead, you have to spent thousands of dollars again and then hope for a better result. (It’s no surprise the uptake rate is reportedly quite low nowadays.)

Part of the gripe in that first comment is that Tesla is now using the same software to train robots, which may end up a lucrative product built on the training and R&D costs provided by FSD buyers, or is at least a distraction from getting FSD to work.

Is Optimus Just Another Overhyped Pet Project?

The second commenter added, “And Elon clarified that Optimus is not autonomous in this video. So it is basically another staged video, just like the 2016 FSD video. Elon is doing the same thing with Optimus that he did with FSD: put out staged videos to hype something that likely won’t be real for many years to come.”

The point is clear here: the person, self-described as “average guy who loves autonomous vehicles,” sees FSD as being massively overhyped via staged videos for years, and sees Tesla doing the same with Optimus. At least it was clarified (somewhat), but the original tweet made it seem like the robot was folding clothes autonomously, but even the followup tweet indicates that the robot will be able to do this autonomously, someday.

Now, as I recently wrote, I’m actually quite bullish on Tesla turning Optimus into a massive business success. But, well, see the section above — I bought FSD and believed it would be useful much sooner. Maybe I’m not the best judge of this stuff. In any case, it seems noteworthy that people have been very clearly disillusioned by Tesla’s failures on FSD and Elon Musk overhyping it for several years.

Bitterness About The Hardware

This third comment really resonated with me because it’s one I feel strongly about and often say if the topic arises. “FSDb guy here… the difference is Tesla is able to continuously adjust the hardware on Optimus. Imagine what the Optimus that came out on display a year ago would do today if all they could do is improve software. it’s clear that AP2 and AP3 lack the hardware needed. (just had FSD shut down with the sun shining on the windshield, robotaxis are impossible if it can’t handle the sunshine),” the commenter responded. Indeed — I cannot imagine FSD working with the hardware on my 2019 Model 3, even though the car was supposed to have all the hardware it would even need for that. Autopilot and FSD capability get shut off or won’t activate when the sun is blinding the cameras in certain ways, and the same thing happens when it rains too hard. The cameras are simply too blinded.

Someone might argue that there are several cameras and visibility is also reduced for human eyes. But my human eyes are not being pelted with raindrops. They are comfortably sitting inside the comfort of a shielded and climate-controlled car. I don’t think the hardware on my car will be adequate for robotaxi use — ever. If that’s the case, was I swindled out of $6,000? Were many others swindled out of $6,000, $8,000, $10,000, $15,000? Naturally, there’s plenty of debate on this topic, but let’s keep in mind that it’s people who had enough faith in Elon Musk’s word and Tesla’s technological progress to put their money into this who feel like promises weren’t kept and the future of Tesla FSD was massively overhyped.

What are your thoughts on all of this? What is your takeaway from the news of the clothes-folding Tesla robot man?


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