Tesla boss Elon Musk has revealed the company is building a highly advanced humanoid robot.
Musk dropped the surprise news during a presentation at Tesla’s A.I. Day event on Thursday, August 19.
After appearing first in a brief video, the robot then strutted onto the stage and performed an astonishingly complex dance. Except the stage version was in fact a human dressed to look like the robot. “Obviously that was not real,” the Tesla CEO confirmed to the audience as the performer slunked off.
The upcoming “Tesla Bot,” as Musk called it, is designed to “eliminate dangerous, repetitive, boring tasks,” with a prototype expected to appear some time next year.
Musk said it made sense to design the robot as Tesla engineers have already created “semi-sentient robots on wheels” in the form of its vehicles, and therefore much of the technology should be able to be refined and transferred.
Tesla Bot stands at 5 foot 8 inches, weighs 125 pounds, and has a display on its head “for useful information.” It’s also packed with actuators for natural movement, including “human-level hands.”
Tesla Bot includes a version of Tesla’s autonomous navigation system powered by multiple cameras to help it find its way and keep clear of hazardous obstacles. Built-in artificial intelligence smarts mean it will be able to learn and respond to instructions. “Please go to the store and get me the following groceries,” Musk offered by way of example.
He also suggested it could perform tasks on the Tesla production lines, a comment that may have sent a chill down the spines of the current workforce. On that issue, Musk said he believes that with robot technology taking more and more jobs, offering people a universal basic income will one day become a necessity.
Apparently keen to reassure those living in fear of an even more extreme robot takeover, Musk quipped that Tesla Bot has been designed with a top speed of 5 mph “so you can run away from it and most likely overpower it,” adding, “It’s intended to be friendly, of course.”
It’s clearly a monumental task to build and meaningfully deploy a truly useful humanoid robot, with the likes of Honda, for example, having ditched its impressive Asimo robot, and with other more recent efforts falling well short of expectations.
But let’s hope Tesla can take the design to the next level and properly surprise us when it unveils its humanoid robot in 2022.
Tesla Autopilot has resulted in more than a dozen injuries and deaths since 2018. Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Monday said it had opened a formal safety probe into Tesla’s Autopilot features to assess their role in a series of crashes involving Tesla vehicles and stationary emergency vehicles.
In a document posted Friday opening the investigation, the NHTSA said it had identified 11 crashes since January 2018 in which Tesla cars “encountered first responder scenes and subsequently struck one or more vehicles involved with those scenes.” Those accidents, four of which occurred in 2021, have resulted in 17 injuries and one death. The latest crash happened last month in San Diego, when a Tesla car on Autopilot blew through a freeway closure and slammed into the back of a vacant police car.
The NHTSA already had a preliminary evaluation open on Autopilot’s role in some of those incidents. The formal safety probe will “assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation,” the document said.
The investigation covers about 765,000 Tesla vehicles (Models Y, X, S and 3) made between 2014 and 2021. The NHTSA could demand a recall after conducting an engineering analysis.
It’s not the first time the NHTSA looked into Tesla’s driver assistance capabilities. In 2016, the agency opened a preliminary evaluation of Autopilot covering 43,000 vehicles. But the probe closed in January 2017 without any further action.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is responsible for civil transportation accident investigation, has criticized Tesla’s lack of system safeguards for Autopilot, which allows drivers to keep their hands off the wheel for extended periods. (The NHTSA focuses more on establishing safety regulations for vehicles on the market.)
Tesla in October 2020 rolled out a beta version of FSD (Full Self-Driving), an advanced version of Autopilot. Despite what its name suggests, Tesla said the final software will stay at level 2 semi-autonomous driving, which will require an attentive driver behind the wheel at all times.
“NHTSA reminds the public that no commercially available motor vehicles today are capable of driving themselves,” the agency said in a statement Monday. “Every available vehicle requires a human driver to be in control at all times, and all state laws hold human drivers responsible for operation of their vehicles.”