Elon Musk unveils plans for humanoid robot that uses Tesla’s AI

Tesla Inc. showcased its artificial-intelligence systems on Thursday amid renewed criticism for Autopilot, its most-talked-about AI-based system, as it unveiled its next big project: a humanoid robot.

At the company’s first AI Day, Chief Executive Elon Musk gave a preview of the Tesla Bot, a 5-foot-8-inch robot with a screen for a face, weighing about 125 pounds and capable of moving about 5 mph — slow enough for people to run away from and small enough so a human could overpower it, Musk joked. He said a prototype is expected next year.

Musk said building a humanoid robot is a logical next step for Tesla, since, he said, it’s already “the world’s biggest robotics company,” with its cars basically robots. The humanoid robot will use all the tools in Tesla’s vehicles — sensors, cameras, neural networks, etc. — to autonomously navigate the outside world.

“We’re making the pieces that would be useful for a humanoid robot, so we should probably make it. If we don’t, someone else will — and we want to make sure it’s safe,” Musk said.

“I think this will be quite profound,” Musk added, speculating that the robot could eventually change how the world works. While it could be used for things as basic as household chores, it’s intended for “unsafe, repetitive or boring” tasks, he said. “Basically, what is the work people would least like to do?”

“In the future, physical labor will be a choice,” Musk said, adding that that will likely result in a universal basic income, someday.

Musk said he hopes the robot is not perceived as something “dystopian,” and that it could even “be your friend.” When asked in a Q&A session about the possibility of superhuman AI eventually running amok, Musk said that while that’s a concern, Tesla is aiming to make “useful,” or “narrow,” AI that will be used “unequivocally” for good.

When asked how Tesla expects to find a consumer market for the robot, Musk quipped “Well, you’ll just have to see.”

Earlier in the presentation, Andrej Karpathy, director of Artificial Intelligence and Autopilot Vision at Tesla, delivered a highly technical explanation of Tesla’s neural network, aka the “brain” of Tesla’s vehicles, and laid out in detail how Tesla uses cameras and AI for predictive learning. Other Tesla AI executives laid out Tesla’s technological breakthroughs in labeling data and building a super-fast computer to train Autopilot.

In addition to showing off its technology, AI Day served as a recruitment event, and Musk encouraged prospective hires to apply for hardware or software jobs at Tesla. “Join our team, help build this,” he said.

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The event came as federal regulators have launched another investigation into Autopilot, Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance system, following several crashes involving parked emergency-response vehicles and emergency scenes.

Tesla shares TSLA, -2.25% ended the regular trading day down 2.3%, and edged up 0.4% in Friday’s premarket session.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also has opened several investigations related to Autopilot, including some that resulted in deaths. Alleged Autopilot malfunctions have sparked more than a dozen lawsuits in the U.S.

On Monday, two U.S. senators called on the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether Tesla misleads consumers by overstating Autopilot’s capabilities.

Tesla has long said Autopilot makes driving safer, and that it makes it clear that drivers have to be alert and prepared to take over at any time upon engaging Autopilot. Musk said during Thursday’s presentation that Autopilot’s basic purpose is to avoid crashes, and said it does that very well.

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For equally long, however, critics have said the system gives some drivers a false sense of security and implies self-driving abilities well beyond its real-world capabilities.

Musk is known for his bold claims that don’t always pan out, such as promising for years a completely autonomous Los Angeles-to-New York trip, and plans for a fleet of robotaxis as early as this year.

Musk first announced the idea of holding an AI Day on Twitter in June, saying it would help with Tesla’s recruiting efforts.

Tesla has held similar special events in the past, including ones to unveil new vehicles or new vehicle trims, like the one held in June to reveal the Model S Plaid, and another to highlight its battery technology in September 2020.

Tesla stock has lost about 4% this year, contrasting with gains of more than 17% for the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.13%.

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