Elon Musk unveils Tesla Bot, a humanoid robot “intended to be friendly”

[Some of the stories about Elon Musk’s announcement that his company is creating a humanoid robot (e.g., in The Washington Post and The Hill) just describe the Tesla AI Day presentation. Others focus on the potential of Tesla Bots to help us explore Mars (Business Insider) or revolutionize health care (Forbes). The CNET story below at least includes an acknowledgement of the ambitiousness of just producing the robot as described, while other stories are more skeptical (Ars Technica), analyze and refute each of Musk’s claims (IEEE Spectrum), or dismiss the whole effort as a strategic distraction from Tesla’s current problems (MarketWatch) or dangerous hype that raises our expectations for AI and robotics (The Verge). See the original version of the CNET story for more images and the 6:40 minute presentation video (also available on YouTube). –Matthew]

Elon Musk unveils Tesla Bot, a humanoid robot that uses vehicle AI

“It’s intended to be friendly,” the carmaker’s CEO joked.

By Jackson Ryan
August 20, 2021

Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Thursday unveiled a humanoid robot called the Tesla Bot that runs on the same AI used by Tesla’s fleet of autonomous vehicles. A functioning version of the robot didn’t make an appearance during Musk’s reveal, though a slightly bizarre dance by a performer dressed like a Tesla Bot did.

The unexpected reveal came at the end of Tesla’s AI Day presentation, with Musk providing few details about the slightly creepy, Slenderman-like robot beyond a few PowerPoint slides. The 5-foot-8-inch robot is expected to weigh in at 125 pounds and be built from “lightweight materials,” he said.

Its head will be kitted out with the autopilot cameras used by Tesla’s vehicles to sense the environment and will contain a screen to display information. Internally, it will be operating via Tesla’s Full Self-Driving computer.

“It’s intended to be friendly,” Musk joked, “and navigate through a world built for humans.”

The robot’s appearance came after a 90-minute presentation detailing some of the artificial intelligence upgrades driving Tesla’s electric vehicles, including the Dojo supercomputer, which helps train cars to navigate city streets without human assistance. “It makes sense to put that onto humanoid form,” Musk said.

Three slides detailed the robot’s proposed specifications, and Musk made sure he pointed out that you could both outrun the Tesla Bot and “overpower” it. He has, in the past, railed against the use of robots as weapons and warned of the risks AI might pose — once calling it the “biggest risk we face as a civilization.” I guess if they’re your incredibly slow, easy-to-overpower robots, the dangers are reduced.

“We should be worried about AI,” Musk reiterated during a question and answer session after the presentation. “What we’re trying to do here at Tesla is make useful AI that people love and is … unequivocally good.”

One particular slide said the Tesla Bot would eliminate “dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks,” and Musk provided an example, suggesting the robot could be told to “go to the store and get … the following groceries.” Not that such a task is particularly dangerous, but you might find it repetitive and boring.

Musk, prone to making bold statements about the future, riffed a little on how he envisions Tesla Bot changing the future of work, too. “This, I think, will be quite profound,” he said. “Essentially, in the future, physical work will be a choice. If you want to do it, you can, but you won’t need to do it.”

It’s hard to say how far off such a future might be, but there’s a huge gap between showing off a few PowerPoint slides and delivering an actual, working humanoid robot. It’s probably going to be a long while before you get your bread and milk via the Tesla Bot, but, Musk said, a prototype will likely be ready next year.

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