Tesla in autopilot whacks a robot at CES (or does it?)


I'm on my way to CES tonight, and am surprised to have not seen much robocar news yet from there. I'll publish some reports of what I see. The first modest announcement is the creation of a public education collective called PAVE which is the first consortium to have almost all the major players.

But I just got a release from a company called Promobot, claiming that a driver in a Tesla using "Full self drive" hit one of the their robots. The robot was not supposed to be in the road, the release says it was part of a group being moved and it "missed its way" and was standing on the side of the road. The Tesla driver, George Caldera, wanted to try out Autopilot on the seemingly empty road. The car hits the robot with its left side, but it's not clear that it really hits, and the robot does not fall in a way that matches being hit. The robot is supposedly fragile and takes enough damage to make it non-operable for the trade show. Or so they say.

More study strongly suggests this is a PR stunt. The "Police" visit is not a police car but a security car. The reported source and the company have not responded to inquiries. Promobot has been accused in the past of doing PR stunts with their robot. The release claims the Tesla was in full self drive, not autopilot, something that does not exist.

It was interesting for a moment to consider what would cause this if it were real. Neural network classifiers trained on humans might not identify a robot like this, but motion parallax and stereo should reveal an obstacle that close to the vehicle even if the classifier doesn't know what it is.

So I am going to rate this is 99% likely PR hoax, and Tesla probably will not be very excited by that. Promobot had written me back insisting it's true.

While I spoke to the guy who runs to the robot in person and he doubled down and insisted it was real and he was in trouble for it, a look at the location of the event, the entrance driveway of the Westgate hotel, shows it is a place that you could never be moving robots into the hall in, and a place where nobody would engage autopilot and it probably would not engage.


I also assumed that it was a staged stunt because:
1.) It was captured on video, and..
2.) That driveway didn't appear to be an appropriate road to have Autopilot engaged and there were no lane lines. So I was doubtful that Autopilot would even engage.

I had a chat today with the guy who runs and gets the robot in the video. He was swearing up and down that it's real, and that he's afraid his boss will ding him for the cost of the $30K robot because he let it get out in the road. But of course, if it's a hoax, the employees would say that.

They tell it took a month for them do buy, mount, and gather map data:

Looks... courageous? Especially after Uber incident...

Promobot has a history of rogue robots suspiciously going viral - https://bgr.com/2016/06/17/robot-run-fake-promobot-escape/

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