Tesla AI Day, CGI, and Broken Promises Are an Insomnia Tutorial for Advocates

Tesla AI Day 15 photos
Photo: Tesla
The Tesla AI Day would happen way past bedtime for me. On other occasions, I’d probably stay up and watch the entire thing hoping that something exciting would be revealed. This time, nobody expected more than an event to attract new talents to the company, so I passed. The following day, most articles were about Tesla wanting to build a humanoid robot and Dojo’s supercomputer. In both cases, what was presented was CGI, but Tesla made it even worse with a person dancing with a robot outfit.
I presented the “dancing robot” video to some people, and most thought it was just a joke. The Verge even wrote a great article asking people not to overthink it because that was what it was. It would be a joke to promise a robot when companies like Boston Dynamics are in this business for years and could not deliver anything next to that.

Apart from the recent video Boston Dynamics released of its robots doing parkour, it also showed one with all the robots’ issues while trying to pull off a perfect execution. It is a humble demonstration of the limitations that these advanced machines have even after all those years. How Elon Musk expects to introduce something better next year is intriguing.

I watched the presentation just to see how Musk reacted to the “dancing robot.” Apart from saying that the dancer was not a real robot, he was pretty serious watching it at the backstage and when talking about it. Perhaps the joke is that he, his followers, and even some financial analysts took it seriously.

Not long ago, companies that presented only images of any new product they had no experience in manufacturing were not taken seriously. That was considered vaporware until they showed a prototype, and most failed to do so. According to Musk himself, “prototypes are easy, production is hard.” From his perspective, even a prototype would not be enough to prove that something is for real. Tesla had no prototype of the Tesla Bot: it had CGI and someone dressed as a robot dancing on a stage.

If you think it through, we have also not seen a single one of Tesla’s 4680 cells. All that was presented were images which could be pictures or CGI. It should be available long ago so that the Cybertruck, the Semi, the Roadster, and the German and Texan Model Y could be produced. That battery, presented by any other company, would also be considered vaporware until it met production lines.

Let’s move to the only thing Musk and his team really presented at the event: the D1 chip conceived by the Project Dojo. It would be a superscalar CPU processor with 1.024 Tflop (tera floating-point operations per second). Tesla named it a training node. It will put multiple of these chips together to create a training tile.

According to experts in the area, Google already has a super processor that is superior to that. It’s a 4K TPU v4 pod that delivers 1.1 Tflop of computing power. Waymo vehicles already use it. TPUs would be superior to CPUs because CPUs would have a memory bottleneck: they would have to “access the register/memory after each calculation.”

To make matters worse for Tesla, the company still did not present the working HPC in which these chips must be integrated. It is what Tesla calls its ExaPOD, the supercomputer that would finally solve the autonomous driving problem. Experts said that Tesla just presented a “photoshopped image” of this ExaPOD while Google already has one exapod working in the Waymo project. It would be the only one in existence.

Despite all the technical terms involved, what caught our attention is that the Dojo is a broken promise. On April 22, 2019, at Tesla Autonomy Day, Elon Musk said Tesla vehicles would get the HW 3.0, with a chip developed by Tesla, which would be “ all the hardware necessary, compute and otherwise, for full self-driving.” All cars produced from that day on by Tesla would have this new computer.

Tesla customers believed that and were disappointed to discover that their cars only had HW 2.5. In China, some buyers sued Tesla for delivering them vehicles with the older Autopilot computer. In Canada, multiple clients discovered their cars did not have the hardware that would give them robotaxis. Musk was already charging people $10,000 for a function their vehicles did not have. With Dojo, it is clear they never will.

Current Tesla cars do not have this new hardware. Their cameras would have a definition that is just too low for a system based solely on images. For the current cars to work as Tesla promised they would, it would have to replace all cameras for better ones.

The let-down customers that will not have robotaxis will probably be told to buy new cars. These ones will deliver them what they were promised until the next Autonomous or AI Day reveals yet another innovative hardware a competitor already has. That “Giga” hardware will be put in all the new Tesla EVs, making the ones they bought before obsolete. Just buy a new one, they will hear. And they have already heard it multiple times.

Any other company changing its plans that much and presenting so much CGI would have already come under heavy scrutiny for its behavior towards customers. Perhaps that is starting to happen, with the U.S. government paying more attention to general criticism. Yet, some will say that this is an attack on innovation or “the mission” to save Earth asking customers to buy a new car whenever something changes.

The Verge called the Tesla Bot a joke. Some called it a clever distraction. Experts said nothing the company presented was as groundbreaking as Tesla said it was. On my side, I am just glad I went to bed as usual and had a perfect night of sleep. If what AI Day presented did not leave Tesla advocates awake and concerned, haunted by nightmares with a dancing robot, nothing will do the trick.

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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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