Google announced it has acquired Boston Dynamics on Friday, making it the eighth robotics company the media empire has acquired in little more than half a year. From The New York Times:
Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts, which are being led by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who spearheaded the development of Android, the world’s most widely used smartphone software.
The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.
First, I really like that the Times used menagerie in their headline and I had to copy it a bit. Second, I think we all know what happens when robots interact with the elderly. Third, we’re doomed.
Boston Dynamics is the MIT offshoot known for their mobile and off-road robot designs, like the Big Dog robot in the video below.
Under a $10.8 million contract, Boston Dynamics is currently supplying Darpa with a set of humanoid robots named Atlas to participate in the Darpa Robotics Challenge, a two-year contest with a $2 million prize. The contest’s goal is creating a class of robots that can operate in natural disasters and catastrophes like the nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan.
“Competitions like the Darpa Robotics Challenge stretch participants to try to solve problems that matter and we hope to learn from the teams’ insights around disaster relief,” Mr. Rubin said in a statement released by Google.
Boston Dynamics has also designed robots that can climb walls and trees as well as other two- and four-legged walking robots, a neat match to Mr. Rubin’s notion that “computers are starting to sprout legs and move around in the environment.”
A recent video shows a robot named Cheetah running on a treadmill. This year, the robot was clocked running 29 miles per hour, surpassing the previous legged robot land speed record of 13.1 m.p.h., set in 1999. That’s about one mile per hour faster than Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter dash. But it’s far short of a real cheetah, which can hit 65 m.p.h. (via)
You can check out a selection of Google’s other acquisitions here. Rubin indicates that while his ideas are long shots at this point, product development could happen sooner rather than later and we could see Google commercial bots within the next several years.
I sense that this could either work out really well or could be a total disaster. Until then, visions of an apocalyptic future under new robot overlords will fill my head and fear mongering will be the flavor of the day.
(Lead image via Boston Dynamics)