New York Times broke the story yesterday that internet giant Google purchased military robotics contractor Boston Dynamics. The deal was reported Saturday and apparently closed on Friday, Dec. 13th.
Boston Dynamics is the eighth robotics company Google has bought in the last six months. Tech heads are very familiar with Boston Dynamics for their groundbreaking robots such as humanoid PetMan, BigDog, Cheetah, and WildCat. They even have their own YouTube channel with views in the millions of their humanoid and animal-like robots that run faster than humans. Boston Dynamics from Waltham, Mass., has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon’s DARPA. The 21-year-old company has designed robots that can climb walls and trees. Marc Raibert, who is a huge figure in robotics, started the company as a spin-off from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)
According to the NYT story, Google executives stated they will “honor existing military contracts, but that it did not plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on it’s own.”
Google has also bought robotics companies Holomni, Redwood Robotics, Schaft, Industrial Perception, Meka, Bot & Dolly, and AutoFuss. The desire for robotics comes from their 50-year-old executive & robotics engineer Andy Rubin, who is famous for building Google’s Android software into the world’s dominant force in smartphones.
For now Google is staying quiet on specific uses for the robotics technology, however they indicate it will not be aimed for consumers but rather manufacturing, such as electronics assembly. This may help Google compete against retailers like Amazon in the future, and help them automate parts of the supply chain that are currently performed by humans. The robotics may replace jobs in manufacturing and distribution centers, as well as the stock rooms of retail stores. Google has started experimenting with package delivery. In San Francisco, Google already makes home deliveries for Walgreens, Target, and American Eagle Outfitters. Mr. Rubin says Google has a 10-year vision. There’s talk of the robots even doing elder care and disaster recovery. The eight current acquisitions include US & Japanese firms that pioneer robotic arms, vision, and grasp. Mr. Rubin is also interested in sensor technology. Google will not currently state how much they paid for Boston Dynamics.
For those interested in seeing robots live, fly to Miami next weekend for the Robotics Challenge sponsored by Pentagon’s DARPA. The competition is open to the public, has a $2 million prize, and will feature 17 robotics teams performing human tasks in eight simulated disaster response scenarios. Google will be entering Boston Dynamics robot “Atlas”which is similar to humanoid “Petman.”