Tesla’s artificial intelligence conference in late August ended with a surreal surprise. From the 1980s, dancers in tight-fitting costumes that appeared straight began to imitate the jerky movements of automatons. It’s a kitsch little prelude to the announcement of yet another crazy Elon Musk project, Tess Labot. A humanoid robot that can perform tedious, dangerous, or laborious tasks for humans.
Reviewed by Elon Musk
Quietly, the businessman said Tesla would be able to present a prototype humanoid robot as early as next year without any problems. But it didn’t show anything other than the dance steps, sharing only a few tech specs.
When his fans booked a hysterical reception as usual, several robotics experts greeted the news with great care and annoyance. This is the case of Rodney Brooks, former director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT and co-inventor of the Roomba vacuum robot and the Baxter industrial robot. Cut. Faced with an enthusiastic reaction, he tweeted a silly message. “” I don’t think this project is part of the history of the next decade. It is understood that this was a very trivial announcement.“”
This is the contract. August 19, 2031. My prediction is that this project will not be inscribed in any history of the last decade. So it turns out that this was quite a trivial announcement. https://t.co/Xn1pXk5kG9
-Rodney Brooks (@rodneyabrooks) August 20, 2021
Specialist journalist Evan Ackerman has also written a hard article on the very serious IEEE Spectrum. Elon Musk doesn’t know what he’s doing at Tess Labot.. However, the humanoid robot experts we consulted in France had more subtle nuances regarding this project.
Immediately conceivable prototypes
Let’s start with the goal of presenting a prototype in 2022. 1.76 meters, 56 kg, humanoids have human dimensions. The problem is, Tesla hasn’t published a scientific article, and no one knows how long his team has been working on this topic, or how much free money and talent has been given. The team does not start to work to this day, but the challenge does not seem totally insurmountable.
“When it comes to humanoid electric robots, we’re not starting from scratch.”Olivier Stasse, research director at LAAS-CNRS (Institute for Analysis and Architecture of Systems) in Toulouse, believes. “If the Tesla team has already done it, notably by drawing inspiration from machines like the Digit from Agility Robotics, it is possible to develop a prototype in a few years, but for the first model, it is usually Boston. . Like dynamics, you have to do a lot of iterations to get to something. “, say scientists. And he knows what he’s talking about. Because this specialist in the generation of anthropomorphic movements has been working for the humanoid robot Pyrene for several years.
You can imagine another option to go even faster. “It is possible to develop a prototype that works in a year, as long as it is remotely controlled by humans and the engine is well controlled.”, specifies Serena Ivaldi, researcher at INRIA (National Institute of Digital Sciences and Technologies). This human-robot interaction specialist is experimenting with this path himself in Nancy, using the humanoid Talos from Palrobotics as an avatar of a human operator. This greatly simplifies Tesla’s tasks.
Bruno Maisonnier, the inventor of the Nao and Pepper robots, is even more optimistic about the deadlines. “We developed the Pepper prototype in less than six months, so yes, we can prototype a humanoid robot in just a year.”, He told us.
Can Tesla’s prototype achieve such a feat as early as 2022? It seems difficult. Building a product isn’t the biggest challenge. The Tess Labot is supposed to travel up to 8 km / h, grab and handle tools, and lift and carry heavy loads in the environment created for man and in the midst of humans. The challenges are environmental awareness, generation of movement and machine balance.
Can Tesla reuse automotive know-how?
Elon Musk emphasized the Tesla team’s expertise in semi-autonomous electric vehicles. “Tesla is arguably the biggest robot company in the world, because our car is a semi-sensitive robot with wheels.”did he declare ?
According to him, the technology built into his car can easily be used to maintain humanoid robots such as cameras, sensors and actuators. It is also important to grab the brand new Dojo artificial intelligence drive chip and benefit from the FSD (Full Self-Driving) system, the autonomous computer.
Tesla could also overcome the problem of autonomy of this robot. In the case of Olivier Stasse, the humanoid robot may be able to operate autonomously for 12 hours. And he himself changes the battery every hour and a half.
Tesla has undeniable strengths to exploit, such as computing capabilities, software architecture, and operating mechanisms which can include several similar principles. But this is not enough.
Humanoid, he inevitably falls
Controlling humanoid robots is very different from controlling cars. “The road is easily identifiable by car. It’s a flat road with two sidewalks. ”, Serena Ivaldi Conseils.. “And if there is an obstacle, the vehicle can choose to stop or avoid it. Its route is also easy to calculate. However, humanoid robots perform various tasks. Control of these movements. And the generation is also very specific. It is the most difficult platform to learn., She adds. A ground that is not perfectly flat can itself interfere with bipedal locomotion.
“Humanoids have 30 axes to manage for four cars.”, Add Olivier Stasse. “He has to start with himself and avoid all kinds of collisions, like putting his hands on his head. It’s hard to keep the balance in motion. He’s still falling. But the important thing is that he can get up. The problem is, it is not as flexible as the human body and can be damaged., he observes.
To convince yourself, watch the latest video from Boston Dynamics. The famous company first showed him behind the scenes of his training in the android atlas. The same constant movements and falls are repeated for hours before the robot culminates in a mind-blowing demonstration of minutes of skillful jumps and leaps over obstacles.
Impossible to improvise a shopping spree!
Therefore, using this robot to shop at a local grocery store is totally impossible, as Elon Musk suggests. After walking alone amidst countless unforeseen obstacles, it is now totally unthinkable to move from the user’s place of residence to a store they have never visited.
Humanoid robots can now only operate under controlled conditions in known environments that are believed to have been previously modeled.
“See the example of a human moving a sofa down the stairs.”, Quotes from Olivier Stasse. “He can voluntarily lean against the wall and help himself. To achieve the same result, the robot must first represent the environment and be aware of the existence of the wall, but that is correct. Some algorithms have already been configured to generate motion...
According to Bruno Maisonnier, the technical obstacles one day become quite large before reaching a useful humanoid robot. “They are not yet smart enough and not nimble enough to be useful. Placed in a real environment, they do not work well. ”, he emphasizes. “To hope to one day go beyond the prototype stage and sell on a large scale, you have to go beyond certain technical limits. Invent a new engine. And a real understanding of the real world. Advances in artificial intelligence using microchips that mimic the human brain to go deeper... This is where the former boss of Aldebaran works with his company Another Brain, which has developed a new generation of bio-inspired chips aimed at recreating the functioning of the cerebral cortex.
In the meantime, we can always dream of future applications for Tesla’s humanoid robots. Bruno Maisonnier thinks about a closed place. First, the user’s home, hospital or retirement home. Serena Valdi goes even further. “Ultimately, I could imagine using this robot instead of humans in contaminated or burnt areas, nuclear power plants, warehouses and factories that perform complementary tasks. You can also coexist with humans and ensure minimal interaction with customers, such as delivering Amazon packages. ” She is moving forward.
Elon Musk hinted on Twitter that he could send Tess Labot to Mars to wipe the plaster of this space adventure on behalf of humans. So it is perhaps the robot who takes the first step on the red planet.
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