John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Elon Musk is apparently not satisfied with disrupting the transportation, space exploration and telecommunications sectors. Now he is setting his sights on long-term care. At least indirectly.

Musk announced Thursday that Tesla will begin making humanoid robots. Their general purpose, he said, will be to “eliminate dangerous, repetitive and boring tasks.” In other words, to do many of the jobs now performed by your front-line employees.

While a prototype is still a year or so away, the “Tesla bot” is expected to weigh in at around 125 pounds, and stand about 5-foot-8. It will be capable of carrying roughly 45 pounds, while being able to deadlift more than three times as much.

The bot’s head will contain the same kind of autopilot cameras Tesla vehicles use to sense the surrounding environment. It will also feature a screen that displays information. Should Musk succeed here, labor as it is deployed across this sector — and beyond — may never be the same.

“It has profound applications for the economy,” Musk said, adding that “in the future, physical work will be a choice.”

So far, so good. But I do have a few concerns.

First, these are robots we’re talking about! Has anyone seen what kind of destruction they are capable of? To be honest, I haven’t either. But I did watch “I Robot,” which really put the fear of artificial intelligence in me. Are these the kinds of helpers you want in your facility?

On a more serious note, I’m not sure how safe some of Musk’s inventions actually are. Yes, he’s brilliant. And sure, Tesla makes wonderful automobiles. But it appears that his electric cars may not have all the bugs worked out.

Just last week, The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration announced it is investigating Tesla’s Autopilot system, which is used in hundreds of thousands of the firm’s cars. The inquiry was prompted by nearly a dozen incidents in which Teslas using Autopilot smashed into police cars, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles. At least one fatality and 17 injuries are tied to these accidents, according to the agency.

Maybe I’m overreacting. But if a gaggle of sensors can’t distinguish between a fire truck and the open road, I’d rather leave the driving to Greyhound.

If it’s any comfort, Musk noted that you could both outrun the Tesla bot and “overpower” it. You know, in case it goes all wackadoodle. “It’s intended to be friendly,” he said. Sure. And the Taliban intends to restore women’s rights.

To be fair, any option that helps reduce this sector’s chronic staffing shortage is worth a try. Let’s just make sure this cure doesn’t make things worse.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s.