Tesla CEO Elon Musk brought a robot on stage during his Tesla AI Day presentation on Aug. 19—or, at least, a dancer in a robot costume. Musk told the audience that a humanoid robot dubbed "Tesla Bot" is in the works with a prototype probably coming “sometime in the next year.”
“If you think about what we’re doing right now with the cars, Tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics company, because our cars are like semi-sentient robots on wheels,” he explained. “And with the Full Self-Driving computer—essentially the inference engine on the car, which will keep evolving, obviously, and [supercomputer system] Dojo and all the neural nets recognizing the world, understanding how to navigate through the world, it kind of makes sense to put that onto a humanoid form.”
Tesla Bot is designed to “eliminate dangerous, repetitive, and boring tasks” for humans.
Musk added that the Tesla Bot—designed to carry up to 45 pounds, deadlift up to 150 pounds, and lift 10 pounds with arms extended—is intended to “navigate through a world built for humans and eliminate dangerous, repetitive, and boring tasks.”
The robot stands at 5 feet and 8 inches tall. It has eight cameras, a version of the Full Self-Driving Computer, and a screen for “useful information” on its head.
Musk said that useful humanoid robots should be able to help humans in their daily lives. “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. It should be able to [respond to], ‘Please go to the store and get me the following groceries.’ That kind of thing.”
Musk previously called for a ban on killer robots.
We don’t necessarily need to worry about a robot apocalypse with the Tesla Bot. Musk assured the audience that the robot is “intended to be friendly, of course.”
“We’re setting it such that it is at a mechanical level, at a physical level [where] you can run away from it and most likely overpower it. … Hopefully, that doesn’t ever happen, but you never know.”
He added that the Tesla Bot’s maximum speed is 5 miles per hour. “If you can run faster than that, then you’ll be fine,” he quipped.
In fact, Musk and 117 other robotics and AI specialists called for a ban on killer robots in a 2017 open letter to the United Nations. “Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” they wrote, according to The Guardian. “These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”
With autonomous humanoid robots, physical work “will be a choice,” Musk said.
During the presentation on Aug. 19, Musk speculated about the impact that autonomous humanoid robots might have on the economy. “At the foundation, [the economy] is labor, so what happens when there is no shortage of labor?” he wondered.
The SpaceX founder also expressed his belief that physical work will be a choice in the future. “If you want to do it, you can, but you won’t need to do it,” he said. “And yeah, I think it obviously has profound implications for the economy because given that the economy at its foundational level is labor—I mean, capital equipment is just distilled labor—then is there any actual limit to the economy? Maybe not.”