Google announced on Friday its acquisition of a robotics company, Boston Dynamics. Boston Dynamics is an engineering company that developed several mobile research robots for the Pentagon and its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – agile, nimble robots that include BigDog, Cheetah, and WildCat. This is the eighth robotics company acquisition for Google within about six months.
Google has been secretive about its intentions for its large investment in robotics technology. Andy Rubin, the Google executive who put an Android in the pockets of millions, is overseeing the search engine company’s robotics efforts. In a statement, Google co-founder Larry Page said: “I am excited about Andy Rubin’s next project. His last big bet, Android, started off as a crazy idea that ended up putting a supercomputer in hundreds of millions of pockets. It is still very early days for this, but I can’t wait to see the progress.” These robots might be designed to do anything from package delivery, to manufacturing, to data collection, to caring for the elderly.
Former MIT professor Marc Raibert started Boston Dynamics in 1992. Based in Waltham, Ma. the company’s research advanced robot technology dramatically. YouTube videos of Raibert’s robotic inventions have gone viral, with over 15-million viewers since its 2008 post ogling the 4-legged BigDog. BigDog is shown effortlessly scaling rough inclines, scrambling over ice without a slip, and forging through snow.
Cheetah was introduced more recently, with a YouTube video posted in 2012 showing another 4-legged robot pounding a treadmill at a speed of 28.3 M.P.H., clocking a 100-metre dash slightly faster than Usain Bolt. YouTube commentaries after Google’s acquisition of Boston reflect awe and some fear. “What’s next? Transformers?” remarked one YouTube user. The word “creepy” crops up from time to time in the running commentary of unnerved viewers.
Google’s other robotics company acquisitions from the US and Japan include pioneering technology that allows machines to grasp objects and to see. Rubin has also expressed an interest in sensor technology advancements. Though Rubin calls his robotics initiatives a “moon shot,” Google is clearly serious about merging data with robotics. Nevertheless, Rubin states that Google is years away from launching commercial robots.