Robotics

Elon Musk announces the Tesla Bot, a humanoid, AI robot worker

Elon Musk announces the Tesla ...
Yes, Tesla is building a humanoid robot – the Tesla Bot is expected in prototype form by next year
Yes, Tesla is building a humanoid robot – the Tesla Bot is expected in prototype form by next year
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Yes, Tesla is building a humanoid robot – the Tesla Bot is expected in prototype form by next year
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Yes, Tesla is building a humanoid robot – the Tesla Bot is expected in prototype form by next year
The Tesla Bot would make use of technoogy developed for Autopilot
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The Tesla Bot would make use of technoogy developed for Autopilot
Elon Musk says most people should be able to outrun and/or overpower the Tesla Bot if it goes rogue
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Elon Musk says most people should be able to outrun and/or overpower the Tesla Bot if it goes rogue
Designed to "eliminate dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks"
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Designed to "eliminate dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks"
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At Tesla's AI Day presentation, Elon Musk has revealed that the company is working on its own AI-driven humanoid robot. According to Musk, the Tesla Bot is designed to "navigate through a world built for humans, and eliminate dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks."

The Tesla Bot will be around 5 ft 8 in (173 cm) tall, weigh around 125 lb (57 kg), and will have a screen for a face, allowing it to display useful information. It'll have a top speed around 5 mph (8 km/h), and be capable of carrying loads up to 45 lb (20 kg), deadlifting as much as 150 lb (68 kg) or holding a 10-lb (4.5-kg) weight with its arms extended.

It'll perceive the world through eight cameras and a Full Self Driving computer. Through 40 electromechanical actuators, it promises to be able to get around in spaces that aren't designed for robots, and its "human-level hands" and force-feedback sensing of the world around it promise to make it useful in a wide variety of typically human jobs.

Obviously, when you start talking about building humanoid robots, you're going up against a well-established giant in the field: Honda's Asimo. OK, maybe not. But there's also been a thing or two going on over at Boston Dynamics, now owned by Hyundai. So why does Tesla think it's got what it takes to disrupt a market that hasn't really even opened up yet?

Designed to "eliminate dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks"
Designed to "eliminate dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks"

The answer is twofold. Firstly, says Musk, Tesla already operates a huge fleet of intelligent robots trained to see the world, label things meaningfully, understand spoken-language requests and decide on autonomous courses of action toward a requested goal.

"Our cars are semi-sentient robots on wheels," he said. "The Full Self Driving computer, essentially the inference engine on the car, which we'll keep evolving, obviously, and Dojo, and all the neural nets, recognizing the world, understanding how to navigate the world ... It kinda makes sense to put that onto a humanoid form."

Secondly, Tesla has gone through a lot of pain to get good at manufacturing complex products capable of meeting strict automotive quality standards.

"We're also quite good at sensors and actuators and batteries," said Musk, "so we think we'll probably have a prototype sometime next year that basically looks like this."

Tesla sees this as a general-purpose robot, rather than one that's built for specific tasks; hence the humanoid form factor. In a world designed by humans, for humans, a humanoid bot will be able to get around more easily than anything on wheels or tracks, use existing tools, and potentially take over a broad range of jobs currently performed by people.

"Can it navigate through the world without being explicitly trained, with line by line instructions," asked Musk. "Can you talk to it, and say, 'please pick up that bolt and attach it to the car with that wrench.' It should be able to do that. You should be able to say, 'please go to the store and get me the following groceries.' That kind of thing. Yeah, I think we can do that."

Elon Musk says most people should be able to outrun and/or overpower the Tesla Bot if it goes rogue
Elon Musk says most people should be able to outrun and/or overpower the Tesla Bot if it goes rogue

Musk, a famous proponent of the view that generalized artificial intelligence poses an enormous threat to human safety, said the Tesla Bot would not have that kind of intelligence, and would be focused simply toward automating boring, dangerous and repetitive tasks. Its diminutive, relatively slow form factor is also no mistake. "At a mechanical, physical level," said Musk, "you can run away from it, and most likely overpower it. So hopefully that doesn't ever happen, but you never know. Five miles an hour, if you can run faster than that, you'll be fine."

The idea of deploying a robot workforce clearly appealed to Musk; presumably Tesla Bots will not be capable of unionizing. But the announcement did have him waxing a little philosophical.

"This is quite profound," he said. "What is the economy? At the foundation, it is labor. What happens when there is no shortage of labor? This is why I think that long-term, there will need to be a universal basic income. But not right now, because this robot doesn't work. We'll need a minute! Essentially in the future, physical work will be a choice. If you want to do it, you can. But you don't need to do it. It has profound implications for the economy, because given that the economy, at its foundational level, is labor, and capital is just distilled labor, then is there any actual limit to the economy? Maybe not."

An infinitely-expanding economy; there's a frightening thought. Musk wouldn't be drawn on the company's plans for commercialization, saying only that we should see a prototype in around a year.

The Tesla Bot would make use of technoogy developed for Autopilot
The Tesla Bot would make use of technoogy developed for Autopilot

Another wild claim, indeed, from one of the wildest claimers in the technology world. Tesla already has its hands full right now getting its cars to operate effectively in the relatively rules-based environment of road traffic. The world of general human labor is much more diverse; it'll require many times more neural-net training for the Tesla Bot to become useful in a broad range of scenarios.

And here, while the company clearly has some of the world's best hardware to point at the problem, it does lose a key asset that has kept it out in front of the market on self-driving: the fleet. One of the company's biggest advantages to date has been the amount of data it's constantly gathering through the huge number of Tesla cars on the road kitted out with cameras and sensors, phoning home to add new edge cases and solutions to the global database.

But it does have money and top minds to throw at the Tesla Bot, so while on one hand it looks like one of the zaniest moonshots in Musk's bulging portfolio, we also wouldn't be surprised to look at this space in 2025 and find Tesla making a significant contribution.

You can watch the entire AI Day presentation below. Skip to 2:05:24 to meet the Tesla Bot.

Tesla AI Day

Source: Tesla

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23 comments
23 comments
Brian Beban
Arnie said he would "be back" so watch out Elon as you fit one of his profiles.
Daishi
Elon previously said autonomous driving is so difficult to solve that it requires building general intelligence so when they need such a technology they will be most of the way there. With that said I hate the idea of biped robots with the fire of a thousand suns and I have insisted it's a stupid Rube Goldberg experiment for as long as I can remember. I don't see Telsa doing much more than competing with Hyundai/Boston Dynamics with these things for making Youtube videos for the next eternity. If they do succeed in developing general intelligence the first thing the robot will do is design itself a better mobility platform and tell Elon he was out of his mind for choosing a biped in the first place.
paleochocolate
Making it humanoid is just horribly inefficient. I'm pretty sure there are designs that are compatible with human interfaces without having to it to be humanoid itself.
yawood
@paleochocolate. If the humanoid form is so horribly inefficient, why have we not evolved into something else?
FB36
If it also had a remote control mode then it could be a lot more useful!
Imagine workers remote controlling them from their homes!
Imagine they are doing remote controlled works at a future moon base!
Michael son of Lester
It's not bad enough that driverless cars threaten the livelihoods of those who drive for a living and those who enforce driving laws. Now Mr. Musk wants to take away employment from those who work in any industry that involves manual labour. With no jobs, how are these people expected to live?
fwaterho
Elon Musk - the Master Magician once again using misdirection to move the spotlight away from current problems...My self-driving technology is under investigation, solution: announce a robot - couldn't meet production targets, announce colonizing Mars. Hopefully, those Tesla investors whose long-term financial health must obtain a positive return from this position will get out before the reality tsunami hits the ship. Others will just go down with their "captain".
Daishi
@ Michael People always say this but 96% of people were farmers and I don't currently know one. I can barely remember the last time I talked to a toll booth operator or even a bank teller. Most grocery stores near me have "self checkout" which people were threatened by but they are still hiring and we are still in a labor shortage. Manufacturing most goods has become much more automated as well. Despite all the concern all these things do is drive up average worker productivity which everyone benefits from. Trying to protect "jobs" from technology shifts and efficiency gains is both futile and harmful and just encourages things like (mostly) automated production lines to be built in China instead of the US where they face less resistance from people trying to save "jobs". This has already played out thousands of times with many technologies and the "but what about the jobs" doomsdayers have been wrong every single time. Until we have a fully sentient AI that replaces humans as the most advanced species on earth that will continue being the case.
Bob Flint
I-Robot ( Wil Smith) this has already been done, and many wonder what are the prime directives here?
History Nut
It would be impressive if it works out. I believe the first successful, generally available, robots with 'smarts' will be more like R2D2. Efficient, utility machines that can perform many tasks FOR people instead of in place of them. As someone in my senior years I can see a lot of use for a multifunction robot around the home performing many tasks that I can no longer do as a result of aging. It may look like a trash can on treads but with manipulators and a voice interface, it could help me a lot. I agree with Daishi that the loss of jobs fear is way overblown. The reason the human race is still here is that we adapt. We will adapt to AI machines becoming part of our lives. Granted there may be a few "bumps" on the road to that end but it will happen. I personally would love to have a self-driving car right now because I don't enjoy driving especially long distances. Unfortunately, my finances and the current market prevent that. Maybe someday my home robot will help me into my power-chair which will drive me to my autonomous car and seamlessly integrate into the car to take me to my doctor's appointment with me having to do more than speak commands.
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