Google Bets Big on Robotics
Google has just acquired its eight robotics company in the last half-year, this time buying Boston Dynamics, the maker of famous walking robots like Big Dog, Cheetah, and most recently Atlas, which will be used by half the teams in the DARPA Robotics Challenge. We’ve long known that when the robot revolution comes, a Boston Dynamics logo was likely to be the last thing we see. Now, apparently, that’s going to be a Google logo instead.
Google’s recent robotics acquisitions include:
- Japanese company SCHAFT Inc., a humanoid robot R&D firm based around new capacitor-powered, water-cooled actuators recently developed at the University of Tokyo.
- Silican Valley start-up Industrial Perception, a spin-off of Willow Garage that specializes in 3D visual perception, making robots that can work in unstructured environments, sorting balls and tossing boxes.
- Meka Robotics, a San Francisco company spun off from MIT. They made compliant (if slightly creepy) full-sized humanoid robots for research purposes.
- Redwood Robotics, a company that partnered with Meka Robotics to create a new kind robot arm that is “simple to program, inexpensive, and safe to operate alongside people” (IEEE Spectrum).
- Bot & Dolly, a Hollywood hardware company that makes robotic camera systems.
- Sister company Autofuss, which as far as I can tell, uses Bot & Dolly robots to do, erm, weird-but-cool stuff like this.
- Holomni, the only company on the list that I can’t find more information on, but which reportedly makes self-powered casters for mobile (wheeled) robots.
- And, of course, Boston Dynamics — the largest and most well-known company to be assimilated yet.
What does it all mean? Many are speculating, though little hard information is available. Based on a New York Times interview with Andy Rubin, the former leader of the Android software team and now leader of Google’s new robot army, it appears that Google’s first robotic ventures are likely to be in manufacturing and material handling. However, we can’t rule out things like robotic package delivery, either. How long will it be before a humanoid robot gets out of an automated car, rings your bell, gets your signature, hands you your package, and wishes you a nice day before driving to its next stop? With the all-star team Google has assembled, and the might of Google behind them, even those of us who read robotics blogs may be surprised.