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Google shuts down bipedal robot team

Joseph Archer
Schaft, a University of Tokyo spin-out that created robot legs inspired by humans, will see its employees get help from Google to find jobs - Credit: DARPA

The owners of Google have shut down the team developing its bipedal robots, five years after it was bought by the US tech giant.

The search engine’s parent company Alphabet has closed down its Japanese robotics team Schaft after it failed to sell it to technology conglomerate SoftBank.

Schaft, a University of Tokyo spin-out which created robot legs inspired by humans, will see its employees either get help from Google to get jobs “within or outside of Alphabet”, according to Nikkei.

The research team was one of eight robotics groups that Alphabet bought in 2013. Along with the robot leg developers, Google’s umbrella company acquired Boston Dynamics, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-out which creates powerful four-legged robots that can open doors and run.

The last robot prototype that Schaft revealed, back in 2016 at the New Economic Summit in Tokyo, was a bipedal robot that could lift heavy weights and right itself when an engineer pushed it. The team has been quiet ever since Yuto Nakanishi, co-founder of Schaft, presented the prototype two years ago.

Now, Schaft has been a casualty of Alphabet’s scaling back on support around robotics. This follows Google revealing in 2017 that it was selling Boston Dynamics and Schaft to SoftBank.

While the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, which has a humanoid robot Atlas and animal creations BigDog and WildCat, went through last year, Schaft was not sold due to certain conditions not being met, reports claim.  

Both Boston Dynamics and Schaft were bought by Google’s Andy Rubin, the former head of Android. It was recently reported that Mr Rubin, who departed from Google in 2014, received a £70m pay-off after he was accused of sexual harassment by an employee, according to reports.  

Andy Rubin, who invented the Android smartphone software, hit back at the claims, saying that there were "numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggeration about my compensation".