Elon Musk Starts Hiring Engineers to Build a Humanoid Tesla Bot for Next Year
Elon Musk unveiled plans for a humanoid Tesla Bot at the company’s first AI Day, with a prototype arriving sometime in 2022. Tesla immediately began soliciting people to apply to come work on the Tesla Bot, which Musk described as running a variation on the AI within Tesla cars.
Tesla Bot Optimism
Musk shared the robot’s specs in a series of slides, describing the machine as a tool for relieving humans of dull chores. The robot he envisions will move at no more than five miles per hour, stand 5’8″ and weigh 125 pounds. The size and speed are supposed to ensure humans can overpower or run away from the robot, he added.
“It’s intended to be friendly, of course, and navigate through a world built for humans,” Musk said in his presentation. “Can you talk to it and say, ‘Please pick up that bolt and attach it to the car with that wrench,’ and it should be able to do that. It should be able to [understand] ‘please go to the store and get me the following groceries.’ That kind of thing. I think we can do that.”
Tesla as a company has no real background in the kind of engineering necessary to design and build a humanoid robot. Almost as soon as the presentation was over, the company started trying to fill that gap, soliciting actuators, mechanical engineers, and robotics architects to work on the Tesla Bot. Those chosen will be working on what the job description calls “a humanoid robot that can support manufacturing operators in tedious and exhaustive tasks.” Whether Tesla can achieve Musk’s goal of a robot prototype next year is unclear. Some were enthused by what Musk presented and seemed to believe Tesla can find solutions to the problems that lie in hitting that target.
“As someone who loves robotics, the presentation of a humanoid Tesla Bot was truly exciting. Of course, for me personally, the lifelong dream has been to build the mind, the robot that becomes a friend and a companion to humans, not just a servant that performs boring and dangerous tasks. But, to me, these two problems should, and I think will be solved in parallel,” prominent AI researcher and podcast host Lex Fridman said in a YouTube review of Tesla’s AI Day. “The Tesla Bot, if successful, just might solve the latter problem of perception, movement, and object manipulation, and I hope to play a small part in solving the former problem of human-robot interaction and, yes, friendship.”
On the other, non-robotic hand, a humanoid robot in a year would be a tall order for any company, let alone one with no existing robotics team to begin the project. The difficulties of humanoid robots have stymied many companies already. Softbank semi-retired the humanoid robot named Pepper recently partly for that reason. And Amazon has spent four years and assembled a team of reportedly more than 800 people to work on a rumored Alexa-enabled humanoid robot named Vesta after the Roman goddess of the hearth. Even a successful humanoid robot like Grace, built by SingularityNet, is only the head and upper torso of a woman, not a fully mobile humanoid.
“Tesla’s announcement of an ambitious humanoid robot project — with aggressive timelines but apparently absolutely no actual technology behind it — has been greeted by actual robotics researchers with a combination of amusement, bafflement and scorn. One reason for this: Humanoid robotics is an application that turns out to be much harder than it seems at first,” SingularityNet CEO Dr. Ben Goertzel told Voicebot in an email. “Those of us who have been working on robotics for years and decades understand that the humanoid-robotic functionalities Musk has casually promised are actually “holy grail” problems that are the subject of numerous global R&D projects, and whose achievement probably requires both serious hardware advances and significant progress toward artificial general intelligence. No doubt Tesla could make serious progress in the humanoid robotics space, but the progress isn’t going to be nearly as fast nor the near-term deliverables as pretty as Musk has led his audience to believe.”