Latest rumblings from Elon Musk may affect future of robotics

Much has happened since Tesla and Elon Musk introduced the improved Optimus Gen 2 a month ago, showing off the $20,000 humanoid robot with improved balance and sensors in its hands to be able to pick up an egg.

Tesla also says it is on a pathway to introducing a fully autonomous robotaxi in 2024 with no pedals and steering wheel, based partly on its experience with 300 million miles of autonomous driving experience with current Tesla owners. No doubt the robotaxi will benefit from Optimus as a driver, or at least sharing its intellectual property, if not its physical body.  

And, separately, chip companies like Nvidia are rushing to keep up with the demands of robotics and autonomous vehicles.  The day before the official opening of CES 2024, Nvidia unveiled the GeForce RTX 40 Super GPU for gaming and generative AI and other products.  “Applying generative AI to robotics will be transformative to accelerating the development and deployment of smart robots,” said Deepu Talla, vice president of robotics and edge computing at Nvidia.

More recently, this week, Musk has been lighting up the web with comments about his need for greater voting share at Tesla, which could signal some bigger changes are in store. Investors are commenting in various forums about the need for a stronger partnership between Tesla and other companies in contract chipmaking. (Nvidia announced a partnership with Foxconn in October in a likely challenge to Tesla.) Maybe Musk could leave Tesla to start something new. He’s been known for doing unusual things, including buying Twitter, now X.

Musk wants about 25% voting power, up from his current 13% control of Tesla stock. “I am uncomfortable growing Tesla to be a leader in AI & robotics without [about] 25% voting control,” he wrote in a post on Monday.

Without such control, he said he would “prefer to build products outside of Tesla.”

At this point, it seems most anything could happen, with significant impact on the future of robotics and autonomous vehicles. As Bill Gates said in the Walter Isaacson book, Elon Musk, “You can feel whatever you want about Elon Musk’s behavior, but there is no one in our time who has done more to push the bounds of science and innovation than he has.”