Tesla's humanoid robot
Tesla is launching a humanoid robot that Elon Musk believes can help eliminate “dangerous, repetitive and boring tasks”, while promising its human handlers will be able to outrun it.
The electric car maker’s eccentric chief executive claimed the Tesla Bot would enter its prototype phase, although Mr Musk’s companies have notoriously pushed back their timelines on other ambitious projects such as fully autonomous cars.
Speaking at the electric carmaker’s “AI day” event, Mr Musk promised the Tesla Bot “will be real”, with a human shape, weigh around 56kg, stand 5ft 8 tall and be capable of lifting 68kg. He also revealed developments in Tesla’s self-driving car capabilities and powerful computer chips.
The Tesla founder and world’s second-richest person, worth $178bn, said people would easily be able to run away from the robot that would have a top speed of just 5pmh.
While promising the robot will be “friendly”, Mr Musk added: “We’re setting it such that it is at a mechanical level, a physical level, that you can run away from it – and most likely overpower it.
“Hopefully that doesn’t ever happen, but you never know. Five mph – if you can run faster than that you will be fine.”
Tesla's reveal was preceded by a morph-suited dancer dressed as its robot
The 50-year-old Tesla boss has been particularly wary about the dangers of artificial intelligence, claiming a superpowerful AI could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons.
He added that robots will start to eat end labour shortages and change the future of work.
“This is why I think long term there will need to be universal basic income,” he said, “but not right now because this robot doesn’t work.
“The future of physical work will be a choice, if you want to do it you can do it, but you do not need to do it.”
Mr Musk said Tesla was “arguably the world’s biggest robotics company” due to its development of cars capable of semi-autonomous driving. Of the Tesla Bot, he added: “We think we’ll probably have a prototype next year.”
The Tesla boss has previously made bold promises about the company’s AI capabilities. His Tesla Bot launch was not accompanied by any demonstration, other than a human in a bodysuit dressed as the robot dancing wildly to techno music.
Tesla's robot is said to be 'friendly'
Its autopilot system for Tesla cars, ultimately intended to be a fully autonomous driving system, was first teased in 2013. Its cars have come with advanced lane and parking assist features using cameras and software since 2014.
Two years later Tesla started selling cars that it promised would include the capability for “full self driving” after software updates and regulations allowed the system to be launched widely. However, the feature has yet to be launched for widespread use.
Tesla used its event to demonstrate some of the advances it was making in computer vision and machine learning. It also revealed a semiconductor chip it was using to develop its a planned Tesla supercomputer, Dojo.
The event came days after US regulators launched an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system amid fears that it was being confused by flashing emergency lights.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it would investigate a dozen crashes involving the autopilot system.
In the UK, the Government plans to make hands-free driving on British motorways legal by the end of the year, although it will at initially limit this to speeds no higher than 37 mph.