Imagine, for a moment, if you owned a robot that could do all the boring tasks that you are just not into — you know, cutting the grass, rotating your tires, or even picking up groceries at the store.
Too far in the future, you think? Too Jetsons?
Well, the charismatic billionaire chief executive who has given you SpaceX, has dreams of going to Mars, co-founded PayPal, and of course, pioneered Tesla electric cars, now wants to build a humanoid robot dubbed, the “Tesla Bot,” The Independent reported.
Not only that, but he wants to do it next year — a timeline that raises more question.
The problem is he held a big splashy reveal, that had a guy in a Spandex bodysuit strut around, pretending he was a robot — a bizarre bit of tomfoolery that left some journos speechless and others very skeptical.
Has Elon finally lost his marbles, they wondered?
Meanwhile, companies on the cutting edge of robotics, such as former Google subsidiary Boston Dynamics, have produced bipedal robots who are capable of literally running through a parkour obstacle course.
But these clunky, heavy machines bear little resemblance to the svelte designs Musk claimed Tesla could build.
Musk said the Tesla Bot prototype is designed to do “boring, repetitious and dangerous” work.
He said the robot, which would be about 5-foot-8 in (1.7m) tall and weigh 125 pounds (56kg), would be able to handle simple mundane tasks.
Speaking at Tesla’s AI Day event, Musk said the robot could have “profound implications for the economy” by plugging gaps in the workforce created by labour shortages.
He said it was important that the new machine was not “super expensive.”
He described it as an extension of Tesla’s work on self-driving cars, and the robot would use the same computer chip and navigation system with eight cameras.
ElecTrek online reported earlier this month that Tesla has been working with famed roboticist Dennis Hong, who specializes in humanoid robots.
But Musk gave no indication of having made concrete progress on actually building such a machine.
“Basically, if you think about what we’re doing right now with cars, Tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics company because our cars are like semi-sentient robots on wheels,” Musk said.
“With the Full Self-Driving computer, [ … ] which will keep evolving, and Dojo and all the neural nets recognizing the world, understanding how to navigate through the world, it kind of makes sense to put that on to a humanoid form.”
Dojo is Tesla’s advanced supercomputer which uses a 7-nanometer manufacturing process, with 362 teraflops of processing power.
A concept video depicts the robot as a faceless black-and-grey humanoid.
Viewers said it looks vaguely like a cross between the robots from Westworld and the weird Will Smith movie, I, Robot.
At the point when a normal tech launch might feature a demonstration of a prototype model, the South African entrepreneur instead brought out an actor in a bodysuit, who proceeded to breakdance to a soundtrack of electronic dance music.
The announcement by Musk, who has a penchant for over-the-top product launches, comes amid an investigation into the safety of Tesla’s full self-driving software.
On Monday, the US government opened an investigation into Tesla’s driver-assistance system, known as Autopilot, after a series of collisions with parked emergency vehicles.
The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles, almost all Tesla has sold in the US since the start of the 2014 model year.
In the crashes identified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as part of the investigation, 17 people were injured and one was killed.
The NHTSA said it had identified 11 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on Autopilot or traffic-aware cruise control had hit vehicles at scenes where first responders used warning hazards such as flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board or cones.
The news left some critics to wonder how a company whose driver assist software is unable to reliably avoid parked ambulances, would soon build a fully functioning robot.
What could possibly go wrong?
Carl Berry, a lecturer in robotics engineering at the UK’s University of Central Lancashire, told James Vincent at The Verge: “[Calling it] horse shit sounds generous, frankly. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be doing research like this, but it’s the usual overblown hype.”
Berry stressed that deploying robotics and AI in manufacturing usually required making the simplest machine possible — not the most complex.
Musk’s otherworldly ambitions with SpaceX have also occasionally blown up in a series of launchpad disasters.
Nevertheless, he hopes to one day send humans to Mars via SpaceX, which has already developed its own reusable rockets and capsules for transporting people into orbit.
Sources: The Independent, The Verge, Global News, ElecTrek Online, TechCrunch.com, CNBC