Science, Science and Tech

The Tesla Bot: AI Future or Farce?

Elon Musk’s recent announcement of the development of a humanoid robot has been met with both excited expectations and doubtful onlookers. The “Tesla Bot” is designed to be a sleek robot utilising artificial intelligence to perform manual tasks usually reserved for humans. 

The robot will stand at five-foot-eight-inches and weigh just under 60 kilograms. Shaped like a human, its head will be filled with cameras taken from Tesla’s autopilot technology. AI from the company will be used to let the robot adapt to tasks such as those seen in warehouses and construction sites. Musk seems confident the Tesla Bot is the way forward but some experts are less convinced.  Ben Amor from the University of Arizona says, “At the software and intelligence level, a major challenge with autonomous robots is the large variability in human environments. Robots, in this case, cannot rely on a human programmer and would have to constantly improvise and change their behaviour.”  

The ability to do so-called “unskilled tasks” is often found to be difficult for robots due to the skill necessary being more complex than humans give them credit for. Amor notes, while human hands can differentiate between picking up a tomato compared to a brick, a robot struggles to tell the difference, often leading to dropped bricks and crushed tomatoes. The key to solving this, Musk believes, is Tesla’s AI technology. Musk, who previously has spoken out against the dangers of AI in the future, states “What we’re trying to do here at Tesla is make useful AI that people love and is … unequivocally good.”  

He believes in the ability of his company to produce humanoid bipedal robots and expects them to be operational by next year. Currently, the only evidence is a few PowerPoint slides and Musk’s speech- and coupled with his track record of missing deadlines, it may not happen in a year. The company has previously experienced delays concerning the Tesla self-driving updates and SpaceX launches. However, Musk’s supporters still hope the Tesla Bot will be delivering groceries and working in warehouses by next year. 

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George Barsted

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June 2022
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