Late Friday, Google let the cat out of the bag about its acquisition of Waltham, MA-based Boston Dynamics. This marks the eighth robotics company that has been acquired by Google in the last six months.
The New York Times, which broke the news, called the mobile research robots developed by Boston Dynamics the latest addition to Google’s “growing robot menagerie.”
The details of the Boston Dynamics acquisition, including the price tag, haven’t been disclosed. What’s left to discuss is what kind of creatures the company is developing and what Google plans to do with the revolutionary robotic venture that’s just docked into the mothership.
For starters, Boston Dynamics is a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was founded by Marc Raibert, a former MIT professor. While at MIT, Raibert and his colleagues worked on developing robots that could run and maneuver like animals. They continued this work at Boston Dynamics after it was launched in 1992.
The robots the company has developed include the famous BigDog, a quadruped robot that can negotiate all kinds of terrain. A BigDog video the company posted on Youtube shows it climbing a hill, being kicked by a man, and going through snow –all without losing its balance. The video has been received 15.67 million views to-date, which shows the amount of interest in the company and its eerily “alive” robots.
Their other robots include RISE which climbs vertical surfaces, and another one called SquishBot which is a shape-changing chemical robot that can squeeze itself through tight spaces. One of their robots aptly named Cheetah is the world’s fastest legged robot and can hit speeds of up to 29 mph. Their human simulation robots used in military applications and research include DI-Guy and Atlas.
There’s no limit to the potential applications for these robots, but Google has something specific in mind. Exactly what they’re up to is not public knowledge, but the person leading Google’s incursion into robotics is Andy Rubin, who quit as head of Google’s Android mobile OS development earlier this year in March.
Since then, Google has been buying up innovative robotic companies at a fast clip. The NYT suggests it might not be long before a Google robot in a driver-less Google car turns up at your doorstep to deliver products you ordered.
It could just as well be an army of robot workers assembling Moto X phones, with a Google car and more robots to ship the phone from the fulfillment center to your doorstep. After all, Google did bring back a Motorola manufacturing facility to the U.S. – it’s in Fort Worth, TX.
It’s a lot more likely, though, that Google’s interest in it points towards software and data, considering Andy Rubin’s involvement. He’ll be leveraging these assets to position Google for global dominance in robotics software and apps similar to the way Rubin pushed Android past iOS and other mobile operating systems.
In any case, we’ll find out soon enough because even a giant with deep pockets like Google isn’t capable of throwing around hundreds of millions of dollars for a pet project that can be mothballed if it doesn’t work out. With so much investment already sunk into it, this has to be a long-term vision to make Google an indispensable part of every robot that comes off the assembly line.