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Humanoid ‘Tesla Bot’ likely to launch next year, says Elon Musk

Chief Executive Elon Musk on Thursday said the electric automaker will probably launch a "Tesla Bot" humanoid robot prototype next year, designed for dangerous, repetitive, or boring work that people don't like to do.


Elon Musk said the robot, which would be about 5ft 8in (1.7m) tall and weigh 125 pounds (56kg), would be able to handle tasks such as attaching bolts to cars with a spanner or picking up groceries at stores.

- Tesla

The dancer in the suit, he said, was the model for a new humanoid robot Tesla will produce in the near future. After the dubstep and applause had faded, the vaguest of briefing slides.


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 labor 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.

Tesla in July pushed back the launch of its much-anticipated Cybertruck from this year, without giving a timeframe for its arrival on the market.

Even by Elon Musk’s standards, it was a bizarre and brilliant bit of tomfoolery: a multipurpose sideshow that trolled Tesla skeptics, fed the fans, ginned up the share price, and created some eye-catching headlines.

Forget about all that, says Musk, just look at the person in the spandex suit! Next year, it’ll be a real robot, I promise.

Do you believe him? Should you believe him? I won’t answer that for you, but I want to restate the facts.

The announcement by Musk, who has a penchant for hyping new 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.

Tesla, a company whose driver assist software is unable to reliably avoid parked ambulances, would soon build a fully functioning humanoid robot??

Companies on the cutting edge of robotics, such as former Google subsidiary Boston Dynamics, a company which makes Atlas, the most advanced bipedal robot in the world, has never described its machines as anything but R&D. Atlas, says Boston Dynamics, is simply a way to push the cutting edge of robotics: it’s not even close to commercial deployment.

"Is the 'Tesla Bot' the next dream shot to pump up the hype machine?" said Raj kumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Carl Berry, a lecturer in robotics engineering at the UK’s University of Central Lancashire, put things to me in less uncertain terms: “[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.

“I’m not saying Tesla researching this stuff isn’t a good thing,” he said, “but between them and companies like Boston Dynamics they leave the public with unrealistic expectations of what robotics is currently capable of or will be for many years.”

Tesla is not the only automaker, or even company, to produce a humanoid robot. Honda’s Asimo robot has been around for decades and it’s incredibly advanced. Toyota and GM also have their own robots, so why are we so hyped about Tesla’s? Is it just because it’s Tesla? Or is it because of this potentially really powerful vision-based supercomputer that will be powering it?

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