Over the past six months or so, Google has quietly been acquiring multiple advanced robotics firms. Andy Rubin, who built the Android platform into the world's largest mobile OS, is said to be spearheading the effort.
The New York Times reports:
At least for now, Google's robotics effort is not something aimed at consumers. Instead, the company's expected targets are in manufacturing — like electronics assembly, which is now largely manual — and competing with companies like Amazon in retailing, according to several people with specific knowledge of the project.
A realistic case, according to several specialists, would be automating portions of an existing supply chain that stretches from a factory floor to the companies that ship and deliver goods to a consumer's doorstep. [New York Times]
Google already devotes resources to artificial intelligence research, and has been slowly building voice interfacing directly into everything from Android phones to your Chrome browser. Research at Google, in fact, is an R&D lab dedicated to "language, speech, translation, and visual processing" interfacing that relies on "Machine Learning at AI." All the information parsing of Google Now, but for the future.
These robotics acquisitions are different, however, as they tip more toward the mechanical side of things. Think humanoid forms, spatial detection systems, and exoskeletal load-bearing limbs. It's Skynet-esque.
Although details regarding these acquisitions are unclear, they reportedly include firms such as:
- Schaft: A team of robotics researchers from Tokyo University who were last seen working on mech-like humanoids designed to handle heavy loads.
- Industrial Perception: Builds vision systems and robot arms.
- Redwood Robotics: Works on machines designed to handle "dull and repetitive tasks."
- Bot & Dolly: Built the advanced cameras used to film Gravity.
- Homomni: Builds futuristic wheels capable of "omnidirectional accelerations and forces."
Amazon grabbed everyone's attention this week when it announced that it was exploring the use of drones to deliver packages. But with FAA approval hazy and existing drone technology still limited, it is perhaps more realistic to think that Google has a better shot of upending the parcel delivery industry.
Imagine: Using a Google Shopping app on your phone, you select a delivery time and place for a package to be dropped off. One of Google's self-driving vehicles — which already have an impressive safety record — pulls up to your place of work. An "intelligent arm" (similar to the model below) finds your package, handing it to a wheeled robot with motion and tracking sensors. That package then gets delivered to the doorman, or even directly to your desk. You input a code or it scans your face to confirm your identity.
Such efficiency would be enviable, and would certainly be less dangerous than filling the sky with whirly-bladed drones at the mercy of inclement weather.