Google isn’t a company that’s known for curtailing its ambitions; starting off with its humble beginnings as the best search engine on the web to the massive conglomerate that it is today, encompassing everything from smartphones to robotic cars. In the past many of the ideas were the result of acquisitions where Google made strategic purchases in order to acquire the talent required to dominate the space they were in. More recently however they’ve started developing their own moonshot style ideas through their Project X labs, a research and development section that has many of the hallmarks of previous idea incubators. Their most recent acquisition trend however seems to be a mix of both with Google picking up a lot of talent to fuel a potential project that they’re being incredibly tight lipped about.
Now I’ll be honest, I really had no idea that Google was looking to enter in the robotics industry until just recently when it was announced that they had acquired Boston Dynamics. For the uninitiated Boston Dynamics is a robotics company that’s been behind some of the most impressive technology demonstrations in the industry, notably the Big Dog robot which displayed stability which few robots have been able to match. Most recently they started shipping out their Atlas platform to select universities for the DARPA robotics challenge program which hopes to push the envelope of what robots are capable of achieving.
Boston Dynamics is the 8th acquisition that Google has made in the robotics space in the past 6 months, signalling that they’ve got some kind of project on the boil which needs an incredible amount of robotics expertise. The acquisitions seem to line up in a few categories with the primary focus being on humanoid robots. Companies in this area include Japanese firm Schaft, who has created a robot similar to that of Atlas, and several more industrial robotics focused companies like Industrial Perception, Meka, Redwood Robotics. They also snapped up Bot and Dolly, the robotics company behind the incredible Box video, who’s technology provided some of the special effects for the recent movie Gravity. There were also 2 design firms, Autofuss and Holomni, who were also picked up in Google’s most recent spending spree.
At the head of all of this is Andy Rubin who came to Google as the lead of Android. It’s likely that he’s been working on this ever since he left the Android division at Google back in March this year although it was only recently announced that he would be heading up the robotics projects. As to what that is currently Google isn’t saying however they have said that they consider it a moonshot project, right alongside their other ideas like Project Loon, Google Glass and the Self Driving Car. Whilst it seems clear that their intention with all these acquisitions will be to create some kind of humanoid robot what kind of purpose that will serve remains to be seen, but that won’t stop me from speculating.
I think in the beginning they’ll use much of the expertise on these systems to bolster the self driving car initiative as whilst they’ve made an incredible amount of progress of late I’m sure the added expertise in computer vision systems that these companies have will prove to be invaluable. From there the direction they’ll take is less clear as whilst it’d be amazing for them to create the in home robots of the future it’s unlikely we’ll see anything of that project for at least a couple years. Heck just incorporating all these disparate companies into the Google fold is going to take the better part of a couple months and it’s unlikely they’ll produce anything of note for sometime after.
Whatever Google ends up doing with these companies we can be assured it’s going to be something revolutionary, especially now that they’ve added the incredible talent of Boston Dynamics to their pool. Hopefully this will allow them to deliver their self driving car technology sooner and then use that as a basis for delivering more robotics technology to the end users. It will be a while before this starts to pay dividends for Google however the benefits for both them and the world at large has the potential to be quite great and that should make us all incredibly excited.