Humans and Robots Dancing in the Tesla Model S Factory

My partner Jason Mendelson sent me a five minute video from Wired that shows how a Telsa Model S is built. I watched from my condo in downtown Boulder as the sun was coming up and thought some of the images were as beautiful a dance as I’ve ever seen. The factory has 160 robots and 3000 humans and it’s just remarkable to watch the machines do their thing.

As I watched a few of the robots near the end, I thought about the level of software that is required for them to do what they do. And it blew my mind. And then I thought about the interplay between the humans and machines. The humans built and programmed the machines which work side by side with the humans building machines that transport humans.

Things are accelerating fast. The way we think about machines, humans, and the way the interact with each other is going to be radically different in 20 years.

  • Jo T.

    Amazing. It’s pretty cool when an entrepreneur starts with a blank sheet of paper, unencumbered by legacy equipment, processes or thinking. Optimized ‘from scratch.’

    • Boils

      He was completely gooberment funded you fol. ….to the tune of a half a bil for battery research which Tesla knew exactly zilch about. You must be a CU Boulder prep school loser?

      • Um. I went to JJ Pearce High School in Dallas, TX (public school). I then went to MIT as an undergrad and grad student – my folks paid for my undergrad (100%) and I paid for all my grad school. No prep school anywhere in that mix.

        • Boils

          But Brad face it: you are the Pied Piper of the Boulder trust fund kiddies.

  • The exciting and scary thing is there is no going back. May be time to watch those futuristic movies we all thought were unrealistic and awful cinematically, and see how ridiculously accurate their vision may have been!

  • How much of that interaction do you think will come as a result of advances in artificial intelligence? Do you think that within 20 years there will be true machine learning and then interaction with humans? Or will it be that machines are programmed to do more and more intricate things, but there isn’t any true “learning”? Are there a lot of innovations attempts happening with AI? (Understood you may be a bit biased from watching Battlestar a bunch over past few weeks).

  • Eric Leander

    I’ve wanted a model S since I read about it years ago in popular mechanics (or one of those publications)… I really hope these guys are able to scale and force the necessary infrastructure development to make these cars much more accessible. If they can get into the $30-35k range, these things will fly off the proverbial shelves…

  • The “Minority Report” comes nearer to reality with Tesla:)


  • RBC

    On UX rather than automating topic – I think car designers spend too much time on the front of a car and not enough on the back … when you are in traffic which end are you looking at … when a “flash” car passes do you turn your head to look at the front…? Missed opportunity.

  • Zachary Rosen

    Brad, you really should drive down the to factory and see it in person. The back story on the NUMMI plan it also incredible:

    The robots you see are designed to be easily (re)programmable by staff. I was told they cost in the range of $15K or so. It’s a crazy world we’re building.

    • I’ll do it next year when I’m in the bay area again.

      • Boils

        Brad, Why do I thin you have skin in the Tesla game?

        • I don’t. I’ve never been an investor, don’t own any shares, and don’t own a Tesla.

    • pneame

      Only 15K (on average, I assume)? I’m nearly as gobsmacked by that low price as I am by the video.
      Thanks for posting, Brad. Inspiring.

      • Zachary Rosen

        Yeah, I was too when they told me.. Robot armies are getting (relatively) cheap.

        • Boils

          So what does Tesla pay its help?

          • Zachary Rosen

            Presumably lot more than the autoworkers made after NUMMI closed down and they lost their jobs.

  • Dean Dorrell

    One of my pet hates with conventional cars has been the UI. But the Tesla seems to have it aced –
    Love the video Brad – thanks for sharing.

  • Boils

    How pathetic. Tesla is a gooberment funded rich man’s toy. It is for folk angry cause they can’t afford Net Jets. Such a taxpayer funded joke. Brad do ya have skin in the Tesla game….and pssssssst Elon did not co-found Pay Pal……

    • 1. I don’t have skin in the game – I’m not an investor in Tesla, nor have I been, nor do I hold any shares today, nor do I own a Tesla.

      2. It appears you didn’t notice that Tesla paid back their govt loan early and the govt made $20m on it.

      • Boils

        They were never qualified to get the loan in the fist place. Without the loan they would not have existed. As it stands they only produce toys for the rich. A waste of working class non carry tax taxes. The governmeny lent tem the money for battery research about which Tesla knew nothing. Need I say more?

        • Zachary Rosen

          Boils, what have you made for working class americans?

          • Boils

            A lot more than you have Zach and none of it done on the taxpayer dime. Nor did I ever make toys for rich orthodontists which is what Tesla makes. You do understand that right?

          • Zachary Rosen

            I don’t believe you.

          • Boils

            Zachary. I hardly care what you “think” and your snotty reply makes me think you are just another trust fund Boulder putz. You under stand that right?

          • Zachary Rosen


          • Boils

            Best of luck in the future Zach. You gonna need it.

          • Zachary Rosen

            Thanks Boils!

  • This is awesome stuff, but it’s even more awesome when you think about the potential of hyperloop, Space-X, and whatever’s after those. In the end, Tesla might be the least impressive of Elon’s contributions to the world, but the most aptly-named. Most entrepreneurs would kill for one company like Tesla in their lifetime. Elon’s gotta keep pushing the envelope, and that blows me away.

  • Rich Kwiat

    Amazing. You have to remind yourself you’re not watching a cgi rendering of the process of the future.

  • cool, reminds me of the BMW factory in Munich. Very similar process! So impressive.

  • James Mitchell

    Great video, thanks! I love watching stuff like stuff
    because my world is all in the brain and it’s great to see real things being
    made. A shameless plug to my essay on robots of the future:

    Dell became a powerhouse by allowing a customer to call up or order on the Web
    a custom made PC, with exactly what he wants. I wonder when car companies will
    be able to do this, say deliver a car within a week of your order that is
    exactly what you want. Right now, if you take all of the car companies in the
    world, there is probably $50 billion or so in finished goods inventory in the
    system. That number could be brought down to $5 billion.

  • Very inspiring video that points to the future. Human-machine interaction at its best.

  • James

    This is amazing! Any ideas how one goes about working on the software that powers these robotic systems? Do you need a masters degree in Robotics or are there enough abstractions that a proficiency in computational thinking and problem solving would suffice? If this is the future then software folks like myself need to figure out a way to make the transition. Thanks for posting Brad!

  • Ionut Georgian Ciobanu de Radu

    We’ve been shown the way a while ago πŸ™‚

    Nicely summarized by Bret Victor in his last talk

  • A beautiful dance of US innovation indeed.