Late Thursday night, Tesla CEO Elon Musk added a new moonshot project to his ever-growing list: a humanoid robot, with a prototype by next year.
Announced at a presentation at Tesla's Fremont, California factory, Musk failed to offer a working robot or even a substantive presentation explaining how it would get there. Instead, a human dressed in a vaguely machine-like bodysuit appeared. They pantomimed a machine's movements before breaking into dance on stage. The not-a-robot danced like a 1920s flapper to Skrillex before Elon cut the music.
In other words, it was a shitpost.
"It's intended to be friendly, of course, and navigate through a world of humans, and eliminate dangerous, repetitive and boring tasks," Musk told attendees of the planned robot. The CEO also warned that the prototype “probably won’t work.” Judging by Musk's previous promises and predictions, it might not exist at all.
In 2019, Musk promised we would have one million autonomous "robotaxis" driving around sometime in 2020. In 2016, Elon Musk promised that by 2018 you'd be able to summon an autonomous car "anywhere connected by land & not blocked by borders" such as summon an NYC car to LA. Obviously, none of that happened.
There's Cybertruck, of course, which Musk promised could tow 14,000 pounds, was bulletproof, and would start being delivered in 2021. It hasn't yet been sold to the public and had its window shattered during a demonstration of its bulletproof glass. We can also look at the Boring Company, which made headlines by selling flamethrowers in the name of solving gridlock but has yet to produce more than colorfully-lit tunnels for cars to slowly drive through in single file.
All of this raises the question of why we continue taking Musk's trollish pronouncements seriously, even as they get more and more far-fetched. Whatever the reason, be it his cult of personality or simply his immense wealth, Musk knows what he's doing. During proceedings in a court case defending Tesla's acquisition of SolarCity, Musk admitted that he pulls stunts like proclaiming himself "Technoking" of Tesla because memes are marketing.
“If we are entertaining, then people will write stories about us, and then we don’t have to spend money on advertising that would increase the price of our products,” Musk said.
It's possible that a Tesla robot will one day exist in some form. After all, delivery robots that ferry around groceries and the like already exist, they just don't look like the humanoid sci-fi fever dream that Musk put on display and admitted might not work.