Job postings from Elon Musk’s Texas-based company Tesla show that Tesla plans to deploy thousands of human-like or humanoid robots in its factories.
The robots are called Tesla Bot or Optimus. Musk says the number of Tesla Bots could one day reach millions worldwide.
Musk told a TED Talk that robots could be used in homes, doing housework and caring for the elderly. They might even become a friend or an adult partner.
Musk also said the robotics business could be bigger than Tesla’s automotive business. Musk has marketed Tesla as a company that does more than make self-driving vehicles.
To his “AI Day” on September 30, Musk said Tesla would show off an early type of robot from its Optimus project. The name of the project comes from a series of robot films called Transformers. Musk said production of the robots could begin next year.
Robotics experts, investors and researchers spoke to Reuters about robot news. They said Tesla made the public doubt that the high cost of “general purpose” robots would be worth it.
Tesla already has hundreds of robots working in its production of its cars.
The problems encountered by robots
Humanoid robots have been in development for many years by automakers Honda and Hyundai’s Boston Dynamics. One problem with humanoid robots is that they have trouble with unpredictable situations.
Shaun Azimi is the head of NASA’s Dexterous Robotics team. He told Reuters: “It hasn’t been proven that self-driving cars are as easy as people thought. And it’s the same with humanoid robots for some Degree.”
He added: “If something unexpected happens, be flexible and robust to these kinds of changes is very difficult.
At an ‘Autonomy’ event in 2019, Musk pledged 1 million self-drives Taxi cars by 2020. Tesla has yet to produce self-driving taxis.
Experts say that even if Musk’s robots show simple abilities, it will be difficult for him to show the public that robots are as capable as humans.
Nancy Cooke is a professor of human systems engineering at Arizona State University. She said that for Tesla to succeed, he will have to show robots performing several unforeseen actions.
She said, “If he just makes the robot walk or he makes the robots dance, he’s already done. It’s not that Impressive.”
Tesla did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
At first, Musk said Optimus would be used to perform boring or hazardous work, including moving parts around factories.
Musk said humanoid robots don’t have enough intelligence to operate in the real world without being told clearly what to do. But he said Tesla could use its knowledge of AI and important robotic elements to develop and mass-produce intelligent, less expensive humanoid robots.
Tesla plans to employ many new people to work on humanoid robots. There are about 20 “Tesla Bot” related jobs, including jobs designing important robot parts.
Critique of humanoid robots
Musk and his company have had their own problems with robots. In 2018, Musk discovered that a robot had difficulty handling materials that human hands could easily work with. He said the cost of having someone maintain the robots was much higher than just having a human to assemble the product.
Gene Munster is a partner in the private equity firm Loup Ventures, which owns Tesla stock. He said: “Investors are not excited about Optimus. He added that there is a slight possibility that the product will work on a larger ladder. And, he said, humanoid robots are much harder to make than self-driving cars.
I am Gregory Stachel.
Hyunjoo Jin reported this story for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.
words in this story
artificial intelligence (AI) – nm the development of computer systems with the ability to perform work that normally requires human intelligence
flexible – adj. willing to change or try different things
robust – adj. successful or impressive and unlikely to fail or wane
Taxi – nm a car that transports passengers to a place for an amount of money that is based on the distance traveled
Impressive – adj. to deserve attention, admiration or respect
boring – adj. bland and uninteresting
ladder – nm the size required to solve a problem
distract – v. to cause (someone) to stop thinking or paying attention to someone or something and to think or pay attention to someone or something else instead
excited – adj. very enthusiastic and eager for something
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