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AI experts pan Tesla’s humanoid robot reveal: ‘next level cringeworthy’

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An early prototype of Tesla Inc.’s proposed Optimus humanoid robot slowly and awkwardly walked onto a stage, turned, and waved to a cheering crowd at the company’s artificial intelligence event Friday.

But the basic tasks of the robot with exposed wires and electronics — as well as a later, next-generation version that had to be carried onstage by three men — were a long way from CEO Elon Musk’s vision of a human-like robot that can change the world.

Musk told the crowd, many of whom might be hired by Tesla, that the robot can do much more than the audience saw Friday. He said it is also delicate and “we just didn’t want it to fall on its face.”

Musk suggested that the problem with flashy robot demonstrations is that the robots are “missing a brain” and don’t have the intelligence to navigate themselves, but he gave little evidence Friday that Optimus was any more intelligent than robots developed by other companies and researchers.

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The demo didn’t impress AI researcher Filip Piekniewski, who tweeted it was “next level cringeworthy” and a “complete and utter scam.” He said it would be “good to test falling, as this thing will be falling a lot.”

“None of this is cutting edge,” tweeted robotics expert Cynthia Yeung. “Hire some PhDs and go to some robotics conferences Tesla.”

Yeung also questioned why Tesla opted for its robot to have a human-like hand with five fingers, noting “there’s a reason why” warehouse robots developed by startup firms use pinchers with two or three fingers or vacuum-based grippers.

Musk said that Friday night was the first time the early robot walked onstage without a tether. Tesla’s goal, he said, is to make an “extremely capable” robot in high volumes — possibly millions of them — at a cost that could be less than a car, that he guessed would be less than $20,000.

Tesla showed a video of the robot, which uses artificial intelligence that Tesla is testing in its “Full Self-Driving” vehicles, carrying boxes and placing a metal bar into what appeared to be a factory machine. But there was no live demonstration of the robot completing the tasks.

Employees told the crowd in Palo Alto, California, as well as those watching via livestream, that they have been working on Optimus for six to eight months. People can probably buy an Optimus “within three to five years,” Musk said.

Employees said Optimus robots would have four fingers and a thumb with a tendon-like system so they could have the dexterity of humans.

The robot is backed by giant artificial intelligence computers that track millions of video frames from “Full Self-Driving” autos. Similar computers would be used to teach tasks to the robots, they said.

Experts in the robotics field were skeptical that Tesla is anywhere near close to rolling out legions of human-like home robots that can do the “useful things” Musk wants them to do — say, make dinner, mow the lawn, keep watch on an aging grandmother.

“When you’re trying to develop a robot that is both affordable and useful, a humanoid kind of shape and size is not necessarily the best way,” said Tom Ryden, executive director of the nonprofit startup incubator Mass Robotics.

Tesla isn’t the first car company to experiment with humanoid robots.

Honda more than two decades ago unveiled Asimo, which resembled a life-size space suit and was shown in a carefully-orchestrated demonstration to be able to pour liquid into a cup. Hyundai also owns a collection of humanoid and animal-like robots through its 2021 acquisition of robotics firm Boston Dynamics. Ford has partnered with Oregon startup Agility Robotics, which makes robots with two legs and two arms that can walk and lift packages.

Ryden said carmakers’ research into humanoid robotics can potentially lead to machines that can walk, climb and get over obstacles, but impressive demos of the past haven’t led to an “actual use scenario” that lives up to the hype.

“There’s a lot of learning that they’re getting from understanding the way humanoids function,” he said. “But in terms of directly having a humanoid as a product, I’m not sure that that’s going to be coming out anytime soon.”

Critics also said years ago that Musk and Tesla wouldn’t be able to build a profitable new car company that used batteries for power rather than gasoline.

Tesla is testing “Full Self-Driving” vehicles on public roads, but they have to be monitored by selected owners who must be ready to intervene at all times. The company says it has about 160,000 vehicles equipped with the test software on the road today.

Critics have said the Teslas, which rely on cameras and powerful computers to drive by themselves, don’t have enough sensors to drive safely. Tesla’s less capable Autopilot driver-assist system, with the same camera sensors, is under investigation by U.S. safety regulators for braking for no reason and repeatedly running into emergency vehicles with flashing lights parked along freeways.

In 2019, Musk promised a fleet of autonomous robotaxis would be in use by the end of 2020. They are still being tested.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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Consumer debt tops $2.36 trillion in third quarter, up 7.3 per cent from last year – BNN Bloomberg

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Equifax Canada says an increase in borrowers helped push total consumer debt to $2.36 trillion in the third quarter for a 7.3 per cent rise from last year, even as mortgage volumes decline. 

It says average non-mortgage debt rose to $21,183 for the highest level since the second quarter of 2020, with early signs of strain starting to show in auto loans and credit cards.

Overall non-mortgage debt came in at $599.9 billion for a 5.3 per cent climb from last year, and up 1.9 per cent from the third quarter of 2019, as the number of borrowers rose by 3.1 per cent.

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Rebecca Oakes, Equifax Canada’s head of advanced analytics, says the rising debt stems from a combination of growth from immigration, pent-up spending, as well as increased borrowing as consumers feel the strain of higher living costs.

Credit card spending in the quarter was up 17.3 per cent from last year to an all-time high for the time period. 

Average spending put on credit cards was almost $2,447, a 21.8 per cent jump from the third quarter of 2019.

There’s been an increase in credit card spending and new cards issued across all consumer segments, including the sub-prime segments, said Oakes in a statement.

She said there are some signs that borrowers are starting to have trouble covering the bills, with average payment rates for those who carry a balance down from a year ago, she said. 

“Consumers have been making strong payments, but we are starting to see a shift in payment behaviour especially for credit card revolvers — those who carry a balance on their card and don’t pay it off in full each month.”

Delinquencies on auto loans have also started to trend up, especially those opened since late 2021, she said. 

The overall rate of more than 90 day delinquencies for non-mortgage debt was 0.93 per cent, up from 0.87 last year, though insolvencies are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

New mortgage volume dropped 22.7 per cent in the quarter compared with last year and by 14.9 per cent compared with the third quarter of 2019. First-time home buyers are paying over $500 more for almost the same loan amounts as first-time buyers last year. 

Overall insolvency rates are up from a year ago but from a relatively low starting point, and there are some areas of concern including a rise in consumer proposals by seniors, said Oakes.

“The true impact of interest rate hikes could be visible by the end of 2023.” 

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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Trudeau, Ford mark opening of Canada's first full-scale electric vehicle plant – CP24

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The Canadian Press


Published Monday, December 5, 2022 5:06AM EST


Last Updated Monday, December 5, 2022 1:17PM EST

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford are celebrating the opening today of Canada’s first full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing plant.

Trudeau says electric delivery vans have started rolling off the line today at the General Motors CAMI production plant in Ingersoll, Ont., which has been retooled to build the company’s BrightDrop all-electric vehicle brand.

The prime minister was joined by Ford and the province’s Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli to mark the milestone.

The provincial and federal governments each invested $259 million toward GM’s $2-billion plan to transform its Ingersoll plant and overhaul its Oshawa, Ont., plant to make it EV-ready.

The federal government says the Ingersoll plant is expected to manufacture 50,000 electric vehicles by 2025.

Canada intends to bar the sale of new internal-combustion engines in passenger vehicles by 2035.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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Food prices in Canada: Families to pay $1,065 more in 2023 – CTV News

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HALIFAX –

Canadians won’t escape food inflation any time soon.

Food prices in Canada will continue to escalate in the new year, with grocery costs forecast to rise up to seven per cent in 2023, new research predicts.

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For a family of four, the total annual grocery bill is expected to be $16,288 — $1,065 more than it was this year, the 13th edition of Canada’s Food Price Report released Monday said.

A single woman in her 40s — the average age in Canada — will pay about $3,740 for groceries next year while a single man the same age would pay $4,168, according to the report and Statistics Canada.

Food inflation is set to remain stubbornly high in the first half of 2023 before it starts to ease, said Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the report and Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy.

“When you look at the current food inflation cycle we’re in right now, we’re probably in the seventh-inning stretch,” he said in an interview. “The first part of 2023 will remain challenging … but we’re starting to see the end of this.”

Multiple factors could influence food prices next year, including climate change, geopolitical conflicts, rising energy costs and the lingering effects of COVID-19, the report said.

Currency fluctuations could also play a role in food prices. A weaker Canadian dollar could make importing goods like lettuce more expensive, for example.

Earlier this year the loonie was worth more than 80 cents US, but it then dropped to a low of 72.17 cents US in October amid a strengthening U.S. dollar. It has hovered near the 74 cent mark in recent weeks, ending Friday at 74.25 cents US.

“The produce section is going to be the wild card,” Charlebois said. “Currency is one of the key things that could throw things off early in the winter and that’s why produce is the highest category.”

Vegetables could see the biggest price spikes, with estimates pegging cost increases will rise as high as eight per cent, the report said.

In addition to currency risks, much of the produce sold in Canada comes from the United States, which has been struggling with extremely dry conditions.

“The western U.S., particularly California, has seen strong El Nino weather patterns and droughts and bacterial contaminations, and that’s impacted our fruit and vegetable suppliers and prices,” said Simon Somogyi, campus lead at the University of Guelph and professor at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics.

“The drought is making the production of lettuce more expensive,” he said. “It’s reducing the crop size but it’s also causing bacterial contamination, which is lessening the supply in the marketplace.”

Prices in other key food categories like meat, dairy and bakery are predicted to soar up to seven per cent, the researchers found.

The Canadian Dairy Commission has approved a farm gate milk price increase of about 2.2 per cent, or just under two cents per litre, for Feb. 1, 2023.

“The increase for February is reasonable but it comes after the unprecedented increases in 2022, which are continuing to work their way through the supply chain,” Charlebois said of the two price hikes of nearly 11 per cent combined in 2022.

Meanwhile, seafood is expected to increase up to six per cent, while fruit could increase up to five per cent, the report said.

Restaurant costs are expected to increase four to six per cent, less than supermarket prices, the report said.

Rising prices will push food security and affordability even further out of reach of Canadians a year after food bank use reached a record high, the report said.

The increasing reliance on food banks is expected to continue, with 20 per cent of Canadians reporting they will likely turn to community organizations in 2023 for help feeding their families, a survey included in the report found.

Use of weekly flyers, coupons, bulk buying and food rescuing apps also ticked up this year and is expected to continue growing in 2023, the report said.

“We’re in the era now of the smart shopper,” said Somogyi, also the Arrell Chair in the Business of Food.

“For certain generations, it’s the first time that they’ve had to make a list, not impulse buy, read the weekly flyers, use coupons, buy in volume and freeze what they don’t use.”

Last year’s report predicted food prices would increase five to seven per cent in 2022 — the biggest jump ever predicted by the annual food price report.

Food costs actually far exceeded that forecast. Grocery prices were up 11 per cent in October compared with a year before while overall food costs were up 10.1 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

“We were called alarmists,” Charlebois said of the prediction that food prices could rise seven per cent in 2022. Critics called the report an “exaggeration,” he said.

“You’re always one crisis away from throwing everything out the window,” Charlebois said. “We didn’t predict the war in Ukraine, and that really affected markets.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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