When science fiction started imagining what the distant future of 2021 might look like, there were a few common staples: space travel, flying cars, artificial intelligence, robot butlers.
Our world may still be light years away from The Jetsons flying cars, but Elon Musk—the man behind SpaceX and Tesla—is doing his best to bring the world into said future.
At Tesla’s “AI Day” event Thursday, Musk announced that the Tesla company has begun work on a “Tesla Bot." The robot, described by Musk as "humanoid," is being developed for customer use, aiming to do tasks people may not enjoy, such as dangerous work on motor vehicles, or repetitive chores like grocery shopping. While not at full capacity yet, Musk said Tesla expects a prototype to be ready sometime next year.
The Tesla Bot is the next step in Tesla’s long-winding “self-operating” line of projects, using the same “Full Self-Driving Computer” internal system seen in their cars, also yet to be seen on the market.
“With the Full Self-Driving Computer… understanding how to navigate through the world, it kind of makes sense to put that on to a humanoid form,” Musk says. “They're also quite good at sensors and batteries and actuators. So, we think we'll probably have a prototype sometime next year that basically looks like this.”
The body is said to be made out of “lightweight materials,” weighing in at a cool 125 pounds and standing at 5 feet and 8 inches, according to sources. No actual robot was seen at the event, but—typical to Musk’s sense of humor—a dancer wearing a robot suit did engage the audience while doing a dance to dubstep.
Of course, most science-fiction movies involving such an announcement usually end with the humanoid robots gaining sentience and trying to either overpower or kill their creators. Musk himself understood these hesitations and re-assured all watching that the robots were “intended to be friendly,” and that anyone who purchases one of these robots would be able to “run away, and most likely overpower it,” thanks to limitations embedded in Tesla’s code.
“Hopefully that doesn’t happen," Musk joked, "but you never know."
The robot was the final announcement of the 90-minute press conference. Musk also detailed updates on other significant projects using Tesla’s AI system. Two projects in particular garnered attention from outsiders: the self-driving car, which was announced to be the subject of a U.S. investigation and possible inquiry from the Federal Trade Commission this week; and computer chips that will house Dojo, a high-speed computer system that will aid automated driving.
Critics were quick to point out that the Cybertruck, made famous by its quirky design when it was unveiled in 2019, was a similar promise made by the company; an interesting idea, pushed off until later, just to drum up hype. Announced to be delayed in July, some are questioning Tesla’s ability to deliver on these massive press conference promises, with some, like Carnegie Mellon University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Raj Rajkumar, claiming the kind of technology needed for a project like this may be “10 years away.”
Of course, Musk has never been one to back down from such a challenge, whether that be launching his own car into space, or hosting Saturday Night Live—maybe more focus on the first one, however.
Read more about the "Tesla Bot" via Reuters.