Teslas are basically just "semi-sentient robots on wheels," Elon Musk said on Thursday. So why not just ditch the wheels? That's what Tesla's doing: It's working on a full-fledged, humanoid robot, called Tesla Bot, and Musk said the company is planning to have a prototype ready sometime next year.
"It's intended to be friendly, of course," Musk said, "and navigate through a world made for humans, and eliminate dangerous, repetitive and boring tasks."
The Tesla Bot (which was codenamed "Optimus") is 5'8" tall, weighs 125 pounds, and can move at about five miles per hour. That last part is important: Musk said you can probably run away from the Tesla Bot, and probably overpower it as well. (And then he laughed maniacally, just to keep you on your toes.) It runs an Autopilot system more or less like a Tesla vehicle, and in fact overlaps with the tech inside Tesla's cars to a pretty significant degree.
"Things I think are really hard about having a useful humanoid robot is," Musk said, "can it move through the world without explicit, line-by-line instructions? Can you talk to it and say, 'please pick up that bolt and attach it to the car with that wrench?' It should be able to do that." Musk also wants the Tesla Bot to be able to do grocery runs and all sorts of other mundane tasks.
The announcement came at the end of Tesla's AI Day, which was otherwise mostly a deep, deep dive into how Tesla's artificial intelligence works. It was a recruiting exercise more than anything else, and part of the company's pitch was that Tesla's AI can be useful far beyond just cars. "We're, I think, arguably the leaders in real-world AI," Musk said in kicking off the evening's festivities, and noted that "there are more applications down the road that will make sense." Humanoid robots evidently fall on that list, and maybe not that far down the road.
He framed the possibilities as nothing short of world-changing: "This, I think, will be quite profound," Musk said. At the heart of the economy is labor, "and what happens when there's no shortage of labor?"