Amid car controversy, Tesla unveils humanoid robot with Autopilot features

It was going to take something really odd and interesting to make people look the other way from the growing controversy around Tesla vehicle crashes and the company’s Autopilot capability. During a Tesla AI Day presentation Thursday night, Tesla CEO Elon Musk did just that, unveiling plans for a humanoid robot.

“Tesla is arguably the world’s biggest robotics company because our cars are semi-sentient robots on wheels,” Musk said during the presentation. Emphasizing that Tesla is not just a maker of electric cars, he added, “It kind of makes sense to put that [technology] onto a humanoid form.”

He said Tesla is planning to have a prototype of the Tesla Bot next year. “It’s intended to be friendly, of course,” Musk said, nodding to comments he has made in the past about his concerns that AI could be used for weapons and be allowed to evolve in ways that threaten humans. Musk said the robot would be under six feet tall, not as strong or athletic as humans, and primarily would be aimed at repetitive tasks.

“We’re making use of all the same tools we use in the car,” including eight cameras, many sensors, actuators and other elements used in Tesla vehicles, and most significantly, the Tesla Autopilot platform to make the robot self-navigating, he said.

The announcement was somewhat of a sharp left turn that came at the end of an AI Day presentation that included discussion of the ongoing development of Tesla’s Dojo supercomputer, a neural network for training the company’s AI models, and the unveiling of a new D1 chip to power Dojo. The 7-nanometer D1 will have more than 360 teraflops, and appears to be positioned against the AI chips of Nvidia, Intel and others. 

Those announcements were the nuggets of an otherwise extremely dense technical presentation about the challenges of developing AI capabilities for Tesla vehicles. It may have come as no surprise to those who have tried to decode every public statement and vague Twitter post from Musk, but most people who watched the livestream of Thursday night’s presentation may not have been talking about Dojo or D1 over their morning coffee on Friday.

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