As Elon Musk stood in the wings at Tesla Inc.'s AI day, a person dressed in a skintight white suit and black helmet did a jerky robot dance across the stage.
And with that, Musk flagged a move into a new realm of science fiction: life-like humanoid robots designed to take the drudgery out of everyday life.
The Tesla Bot, a prototype of which should be available next year, is designed to eliminate "dangerous, repetitive and boring tasks," like bending over to pick something up, or go to the store for groceries, Musk said. "Essentially, in the future, physical work will be a choice."
"Tesla is arguably the world's biggest robotics company," Musk said. "Our cars are basically semi-sentient robots on wheels."
The bot was the show-stopper of Tesla's AI Day, during which engineers gave highly technical presentations on the company's autonomous-driving development work with the goal of recruiting talent to the Palo Alto, California-based company.
"Develop the next generation of automation, including a general purpose, bi-pedal, humanoid robot capable of performing tasks that are unsafe, repetitive or boring," says a job posting on its site. "We're seeking mechanical, electrical, controls and software engineers to help us leverage our AI expertise beyond our vehicle fleet."
Musk has a long history of unveiling products that are merely prototypes, essentially selling a vision before it exists in reality. In November 2017, Tesla unveiled its Semi truck at a late-night event near Los Angeles, but that vehicle has been pushed back until 2022 at the earliest, due in part to challenges making larger battery cells.
Tesla's stated mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy, so a humanoid robot feels a bit like mission creep. Musk didn't outline how robots would fit into the company's clean-energy initiatives.