Chief Executive Elon Musk blamed overreliance on factory robots for sending the electric carmaker to “production hell” four years ago, saying humans were better at certain jobs.
Musk’s Texas company now is floating ambitious plans to deploy thousands of humanoid robots, known as Tesla Bot or Optimus, within its factories, expanding eventually to millions around the world, according to job postings.
Longer term, Musk said at a TED Talk robots could be used in homes, making dinner, mowing the lawn and caring for the elderly people, and even becoming a “buddy” or a “catgirl” sex partner.
The robot business eventually may be worth more than Tesla’s car revenue, according to Musk, who is now touting a vision for the company that goes well beyond making self-driving electric vehicles.
At its “AI Day” on Sept. 30, Tesla will unveil a prototype from its project Optimus, an allusion to the powerful and benevolent leader of the Autobots in the Transformers series. Production could start next year, Musk said.
Tesla faces skepticism that it can show technological advances that would justify the expense of “general purpose” robots in factories, homes and elsewhere, according to robotics experts.
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“Self-driving cars weren’t really proved to be as easy as anyone thought. And it’s the same way with humanoid robots to some extent,” the lead of NASA’s Dexterous Robotics Team, Shaun Azimi, told Reuters.
“If something unexpected happens, being flexible and robust to those kinds of changes is very difficult.”
At an “Autonomy” event in 2019, Musk promised 1 million robotaxis by 2020 but has yet to deliver such a car.
Musk’s robots may be able to demonstrate basic capabilities at the event, but it would be hard for them to impress public expectations of robots that are as capable as humans, experts say.