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Tesla’s next vehicle: a humanoid robot?

At Tesla’s recent AI Day event, the company announced a number of new initiatives. It unveiled a new line of in-house-designed chips for its Dojo high-speed computer, which will power the next generation of Autopilot, and is now expected to be operational next year. The company also announced that new Full Self-Driving (FSD) hardware will be released along with the Cybertruck electric pickup truck in “about a year or so.”

However, most of the press yawned through 90 minutes of what Bloomberg called “highly technical presentations on the company’s autonomous-driving development work,” and gushed about a humanoid robot dubbed the Tesla Bot, which will be equipped with the same cameras and FSD computer used by Autopilot.

“Tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics company,” said Elon Musk. “Our cars are basically semi-sentient robots on wheels. It makes sense to put that onto humanoid form.”

Some savvy Tesla-watchers believe that the real point of the Tesla Bot is to supercharge the company’s efforts to recruit talent for its AI program (humanoid robots generate a lot of interest in the AI world). And of course, to grab some quick headlines, which it certainly did.

Elon said the robot would be designed to take on tasks that are too dangerous, repetitive or downright boring for humans. He cited such examples as attaching bolts to cars with a wrench, or picking up groceries at the store. “Essentially, in the future, physical work will be a choice,” said he. “If you want to do it, you can, but you won’t need to do it.”

What about Musk’s earlier warnings about “summoning the demon?” During a Q&A session, he said, “We should be worried about AI…[but] what we’re trying to do here at Tesla is make useful AI that people love and is…unequivocally good.”

“It’s intended to be friendly, and navigate through a world built for humans,” Musk assured us, adding that a human should be able to both outrun and “overpower” the 5-foot-8-inch, 125-pound helpmate if necessary. CNET quipped that the idea seems to be that the dangers of AI will be reduced if robots are slow and easy to wrestle to the ground.

There’s no functioning prototype yet, but apparently there is a suit—a performer dressed as a Tesla Bot did a little dance at the event. Musk says a prototype could be built as early as next year.

Not all Tesla fans are thrilled about the latest product. Some have been saying for years that they’d like to see fewer new, headline-grabbing projects, and more focus on simply ramping up EV and Powerwall production. An online commenter named Ben Sullins summed up this view pretty well: “How is Tesla Bot helping advance the transition to sustainable energy? Or has Tesla’s mission changed?”

“Bot is not directly on the path of accelerating a sustainable energy future, but it aspirationally improves the probability that the future is good,” responded Musk.

Sources: Tesla, Reuters, EVannex, CNET

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