Google Poised To Become The Leader In Robotics
Google has always been one to put their money where their mouth is and with the recent acquisition of Boston Dynamics, the creators of the Internet viral sensation robot BigDog, Google has set themselves up to be the king of the robots. With all of the amazing minds and money behind Google something really ground breaking is bound to come out of this. Under the super secretive anonymous name GoogleX, Google has amassed quite the portfolio of robotics companies lately. In fact since October of 2013, Google has spent billions of dollars acquiring 9 separate companies associated with robotics, some of which are the top players in the game.
Google has remained tight-lipped as to what they are up to, but as we all know, Google doesn’t do things on a small-scale. With that in mind, the talk of secret Google laboratories, robots, and the unlimited Google money vaults really get the mind churning as to what sort of amazing technological robotic achievements they might come up with. I can’t wait for some sort of formal announcement! So for the moment, all that leaves us with is time to speculate as to what Google and the future may bring…
I thought it would be fun to take a look at each of the different robotic companies Google has recently acquired to help better paint an overall picture as to what they may have planned. I’ve painstakingly listed them for you in order of the most recent acquisition being listed first.
Acquired: 1/26/2014 Specialization: Artificial Intelligence Site: DeepMind.com
With the mission statement “To Build General-Purpose Learning Algorithms” DeepMind combines the best techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms. Formed in 2011, DeepMind is a British company founded by Demis Hassabis, Mustafa Suleyman and Shane Legg. The sale was initially reported by multiple news outlets such as Forbes, Reuters and The Guardian but Google has not made any formal statements except for an acknowledgment and announcement of the partnership on the DeepMind website. With Google already having made substantial previous investments in AI companies, and with amazing minds like Ray Kurzweil, a man many consider one of the leading minds in the field this makes a lot of sense. On an interesting side note, apparently Facebook also made a play to try and acquire DeepMind but obviously nothing went through.
Acquired: 12/10/2013 Specialization: Robotics Site: BostonDynamics.com
From their website: “Boston Dynamics builds advanced robots with remarkable behavior: mobility, agility, dexterity and speed. We use sensor-based controls and computation to unlock the capabilities of complex mechanisms. Our world-class development teams take projects from initial concept to proof-of-principle prototyping to build-test-build engineering, to field testing and low-rate production.” You have probably seen a video from the group of clips they put online that went viral of their robot called the BigDog.
Boston Dynamics is a company who attracted the interest of the government entity DARPA early on who saw the potential for military application of their creations. Being as though money doesn’t grow on trees, Boston Dynamics has relied on military funding for a while now. However, Google’s motto is “Do No Evil” and word is they are working on getting Boston Dynamics completely off of DARPA funding by fulfilling current agreements but not extending them at all.
Bot & Dolly
Acquired: 12/7/2013 Specialization: Robotic Cameras Site: BotnDolly.com
Bot & Dolly specialize in robotic cameras used in Hollywood movies, television shows and the creation of advertisements. These things can pan and adjust to some crazy angles which is perfect when shooting a movie. The company’s goal is to advance motion control and automation as a creative medium, and build world-class tools that enable others to do the same. At the core of their technology is an integrated software & hardware platform that provides precise and expressive control of 6-axis industrial robots. On top of this core platform they provide industry-specific toolsets such as IRIS to support in the creative process, from prototype to production.
Also included in the sale was the design studio behind Bot & Dolly called Autofuss. Prior to the acquisition, Autofuss worked with Google on designing the Nexus line of products. Just another piece in the giant Google robotic puzzle.
Acquired: 12/6/2013 Specialization: Robotic Wheels Site: Holomni.com
Holomni is a company that specializes in creating omnidirectional wheels for robots. Holomni takes the simple wheel and makes it high-tech. Imagine something like a smart motorized caster wheel. It’s nothing overly fancy, but another brick in the building. Their website says it all as for what the future holds for them as it is basically all taken down except for one page saying they now only work for Google. Obviously Google is gonna ultimately need some backup wheels for their creation, and Holomni seems to be the team bought up for the job. (see what I did there?)
Acquired: 12/5/2013 Specialization: Robots Site: MekaBot.com
Meka Robotics, like Holomni has taken down their website and replaced it with a page stating the Google acquisition. It also says they are currently working on the Robotic Revolution and to check back soon. Shit like this just makes me feel like a kid waiting for Christmas again. Located in San Francisco, CA Meka Robotics worked with The Human Centered Robotics Laboratory at UT Austin on a project called HUME, which is a bipedal robot for rough terrain locomotion. It includes free running like capabilities on near vertical surfaces. Pretty amazing stuff… Originally a spin-off from the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, they are best known for a really cool expressive humanoid robot head.
Acquired: 12/4/2013 Specialization: Robotic Arms Site: RedwoodRobotics.com
The company responsible for making the super high-tech and über cool robotic arms in the Meka Robotics expressive humanoid robot head i just mentioned above is the one and only Redwood Robotics. Redwood Robotics was actually a joint venture between Meka Robotics, Willow Garage, and SRI International. Redwoods goal was to be for robotic arms what Apple was for computers. This super next-gen arm is not something to laugh off either… It is one serious piece of technology, and something Google should be able to put to amazing use. Redwoods website, just like Meka’s says they are busy on the robotic revolution. We will in fact be checking back soon.
Acquired: 12/3/2013 Specialization: Robot Vision Site: Industrial-Perception.com
Google seems to be pretty good at this already with a division creating a self driving car, but the more the merrier right? Industrial Perceptions motto, “Providing robots with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the economy of tomorrow” pretty much sums them up. They create the robotic arms you find in warehouses stacking boxes and fetching merchandise off of shelves. They can also sort through trucks full of items to retrieve and move the right ones. These robots have the ability to see what they are doing, and I think that is what Google is interested in the most. As with Meka and Redwood, Industrial Perception is not taking on any new clients. There website is down to just one page, that includes a link to this article on the New York Times.
Acquired: 12/2/2013 Specialization: Humanoid Robots Site: Schaft-inc.jp
Japanese based Schaft, Inc. created a technology that makes robots much stronger than they used to be. With the ability to bypass the limitations of existing systems Schaft is getting us one step closer to creating the mighty Terminators. Check out this article that details a little bit about what Schaft was up to before the acquisition. Like some of the others, their website is down to just one page and they are not accepting any new clients. The page showcases their master creation, which in my opinion has some hints of ED-209 from the original Robocop movie. You have ten seconds to comply!
Acquired: 10/2/2013 Specialization: Gesture Recognition Site: FlutterApp.com
When you look at Flutter on the surface, it is just a program that recognizes gestures through a webcam to control things on a computer or tablet. If that’s all you see the acquisition of this company for though, then I’m afraid you are missing the bigger picture of what Google is putting together here. Gesture recognition is essential for allowing humans to interact with a robot, and getting their hands on this sort of established technology is a no brainer. If you look at the timeline of Google’s recent acquisitions this is right at the beginning of the robot company buyouts with only one other acquisition occurring between them. It makes sense.
So What Does This All Mean?
It’s obvious that it’s not business as usual once Google acquires these companies. It appears that as soon as one of these acquired companies finishes up whatever they were working on and fulfil any sort of contracts they were bound to, they are shutting down their public side and being brought into something much larger in the secret GoogleX labs. There is an endgame in place, and I’m just dying to know what it looks like, and what it will be capable of.
I don’t know about you, but when you look at all of these companies put together I personally see something resembling C-3PO rolling off an assembly line at the end of all this. A mighty company like Google is exactly what the robotics industry needs, and one super massive robot company is what will bring robotics to the next step in its evolution.
Let’s face it, the last few years has kind of seen the robotics fad fizzle out a little bit as nothing really impressive has become commercially available yet. People have sort of lost interest. They have seen all this cool stuff on YouTube, but it really hasn’t impacted them or their direct life yet. Whatever Google is up to will be the start of changing that though I think. Robots, when done right, are one of those things that have the potential to literally change the day to day life of every person on the planet.
Google is already planning on rolling out the self driving car in 2017 which will be a major game changer. A Jetsons type humanoid robot maid named “Rosie”, who is also fluent in over six million forms of communication and can readily be deployed to scrub the bathroom floor at a moments notice could be working around your house and cooking you dinner a lot sooner than you might expect. And if you get angry with your protocol droid and disintegrate him, you’ll always be able to go back to Google and buy a new one!
What do you think? We’d love to hear you sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!