Tesla’s financial outlook – or lack thereof – set off a panic on Wall Street this week.

Some analysts suggested Tesla denied them sought-after clarity on the company’s production growth expectations for this year, after a disappointing set of earnings results.

But while the number crunchers got caught up on the short-term, they may have missed new details tied to the long-term.

CEO Elon Musk provided an update on Tesla’s humanoid robot plans during the company’s Wednesday earnings call.

He noted he had spent the previous evening in Tesla’s Optimus lab, where things, in his words, are “advancing very quickly.”

Optimus is the loving name given to Tesla’s bot, in a nod to the “Transformers” character. 

In his comments, Musk said that the company’s bot business has the potential to far exceed the value of everything else at Tesla combined. 

That’s a considerable comment from the CEO of a company that came close to generating US$100 billion last year.

Tesla's road to robotics

Here’s a quick version of Musk’s roadmap – it starts with incorporating AI into Tesla vehicles. 

You often hear Tesla talk about its progress in the area of FSD, or full self-driving. 

As the company pushes ahead with autonomous vehicles, Musk has increasingly worked robot terminology into his messaging. On this week’s earnings call, he referenced Tesla vehicles as essentially now being robots on four wheels.

Tesla’s robot, meanwhile, has been learning through AI the same way the vehicles have been teaching themselves. 

Musk believes quite strongly that in the not-too distant future, the bots will be so advanced that people will be willing to pay for them just as they are willing to buy cars.

Cost and utility: what would a Tesla robot do?

Price-wise, they are not initially expected to be cheap to buy.

In the past, Musk has alluded to pricing them at less than $20,000 a pop, and what you would get for that price tag remains a work in progress.

But think of a humanoid machine that can do dangerous work that humans would rather avoid.

Of course, there’s also lots of boring stuff people might want to skip too, from groceries to ironing. 

Tesla has even alluded to Optimus being your non-human friend. 

Sci-fi or not-so-distant future?

While it all sounds fairly sci-fi, the future, in Musk’s view, is rapidly approaching.

As a narrative, that’s not such a stretch when you consider how much of the market’s attention in the past year has been focused on the promises of AI.

What was particularly notable in Musk’s latest comments is that he suggested Tesla has a good chance of shipping some Optimus units next year.

He had previously stated some of the robots could be on the market within five years – which, in itself, seems pretty fast.

Skeptics would say Musk has shared big predictions in the past that have had to be pushed back.

But it is clear that Musk wants Tesla to evolve into an AI and robotics company, and the rapid advancements in that area deserve as much attention – if not more than - the dialogue around how many vehicles Tesla will sell this year.