If you are going to fill the world with the next generation of robots, as the New York Times suggests Google Inc. (GOOG) is preparing to do, who better to lead the effort than the man who made Google's Android software the world's dominant force in smartphones?
Google is keeping a lid on its specific plans, but engineer Andy Rubin is leading the effort, and the company has quietly acquired several technology companies involved in robotics and artificial intelligence. The most likely target of these efforts is and logistics and manufacturing, such as electronics assembly, which is still largely done by hand.
If Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) can deliver packages to your door by drone, as founder Jeff Bezos recently suggested, why not Google driverless cars and Google robots to do the same? Google has stuck a toe in the water with package delivery services in a few urban areas such as San Francisco. Google Shopping already makes home deliveries for companies like Target Corp. (TGT), Walgreen Co. (WAG) and American Eagle Outfitters (AEO).
Delivery to the doorstep may be automated someday, but for now it remains dependent on humans. "[Y]ou have to think of time as a factor," Rubin said. "We need enough runway and a 10-year vision."
Among Google's recent acquisitions are:
- Schaft, a Japanese company that endeavors to develop a humanoid robot
- Industrial Perception, a U.S. start-up that has developed computer vision systems and robot arms for loading and unloading trucks
- Meka and Redwood Robotics, San Francisco-based makers of humanoid robots and robot arms
- Bot & Dolly, a maker of the robotic camera systems recently used to create special effects in the movie "Gravity"
- Autofuss, which focuses on advertising and design
- Holomni, a small design firm that makes high-tech wheels
The Google robotics group initially will be based in Palo Alto, with an office in Japan. Rubin already has begun hiring roboticists and has brought in other Google programmers to assist in the project. While the company may be experimenting with things like driverless cars and the wearable devices, it appears ready to make a move with robots.
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