When it gets the innovation munchies, Google has a decided yen for only the best cuts of the robotics industry. One by one it’s ordering up some of the best companies on our RBR50 list of the world’s top robot builders.
Boston Dynamics, just down the street from Robotics Business Review, was plump with government contracts, even during the hell that was the 2008 financial crisis, or so said Marc Raibert, BD’s president, last time I chatted with him. Boston Dynamics on the RBR50.
As they say about the mafia, he must have been talked to and given an offer he couldn’t refuse. Knowing a little something about Raibert’s motivation in robotics, it must not have been money alone that Google dangled in front of him. It was something else; it must have been the plan–whatever that secret plan is about–that grabbed his attention.
Privy to the plan
What would make for a real insider look-see on what Google is up to with this its eight acquisition in as many months, would be to be privy to the feasibility study and plan that Andy Rubin undoubtedly presented to Sergey Brin and Larry Page that convinced them to open Google’s oh-so-deep corporate wallet.
Eight companies gobbled up in eight months is not the kind of thing decided on by scribbles on a restaurant napkin. Would that it was, because that would be very cool and gutsy, but I doubt it.
More likely, Rubin has a battle plan, which, if published as a book, would leap instantly to the top of New York Times Best Seller List. I’d settle for a TED Talk.
What company is next to be acquired, in a very real sense, is totally secondary to the plan that Google is sitting on, which is, without question, the largest startup in the history of robotics.
If there is such a plan and it’s so attractive to guys like Raibert, why have no mainstay robotics companies–the KUKAs, the ABBs, and the Fanucs of the world–thought about it as well and made a move?
That’s especially so when you consider how the world is so abuzz with non-stop chatter about the coming robot revolution. What did the big shots of robotics miss? And if they too have thought about such things as Google is now acting upon, why haven’t they act already?
What’s Google see in Boston Dynamics?
According to today’s New York Times (December 14, 2013), Boston Dynamics is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year. Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts, which are being led by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who spearheaded the development of Android, the world’s most widely used smartphone software.
“The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.
“Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has not sold robots commercially, but has pushed the limits of mobile and off-road robotics technology, mostly for Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa. Early on, the company also did consulting work for Sony on consumer robots like the Aibo robotic dog.
walking robots have a reputation for being extraordinarily agile, able to walk over rough terrain and handle surfaces that in some cases are challenging even for humans.”
Maybe the Rad Lab of Robotics
If you follow the list of robotic body parts that Google acquired so far (See RBR’s previous: And Now for Something Completely Different: GoogleBots!), it’s not too much of a stretch to see the humanoid drift to the buying spree.
It would be really nice, however, to see the plan itself, to see if maybe it’s not a humanoid but a actually a teeny self-driving Google car with arms and a sensory system ideal for warehouse and factory work.
It’s like MIT’s famous Rad Lab, that World War II genius factory that produced scads of previously unheard of tech; Vannevar Bush scoured the country handpicking the nation’s best minds for the Rad Lab. A dozen alumni ended up as Nobel Laureates.
Rubin is on his own Rad Lab-type quest, and he’s not done yet, so say whispers from the Valley. And like Bush before him, he probably won’t run the operation himself, but rather select out a more hands-on commander for the job.
Rubin is more an Android guy than a robot guy. Bush selected Lee DuBridge (later president of Cal Tech). Who’s going to be Rubin’s choice?
With newbie purveyors of warehouse/factory worker robots like Rethink Robotics sadly having to layoff twenty-one staff this week and other worker robot makers treading ever so cautiously, it’s a happy day in the industry when a world beater such as Google shakes things up with a foray into things other than four-wheel roadsters.
The Google watch is on. Thanks, Google.