Google's Buying Up Tech Companies to Build Robots

By Wesley Fenlon

Google's putting together a robotics division, with Andy Rubin taking charge.

Google's Android operating system is stable. It's been a long road from the rough early versions of Android, through the better-but-still-not-so-great Froyo, and up to Android 4.0, which treated loyal Android users with a fast, smart OS. And now Andy Rubin, who spearheaded the great Android effort, is moving on to something else: Robots.

"Over the last half-year, Google has quietly acquired seven technology companies in an effort to create a new generation of robots," writes The New York Times. That sounds...exciting? Ominous? Expensive? Whatever the case, Rubin's leading the charge on Google's robotics projects. Years before he was working on Android, or at Google, Rubin was a robotics engineer, and worked on manufacturing robotics for Carl Zeiss. According to the Times, that's the direction Google's robotics efforts may be going, not towards a friendly robot pal like ASIMO or Amazon's delivery drones.

"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," writes the Times. "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."

There are a lot of jobs along the supply chain that could be replaced with robots, if Google's purchased robotics companies can combine their powers to make some serious breakthroughs. One of the startups Google purchased, called Industrial Perception, has developed "computer vision systems and robot arms for loading and unloading trucks." Another one, the Japanese company Schaft, has been focusing in building a humanoid robot. Throw in the research from a few more robotics companies and you might have a robotic worker who can load and unload trucks 24 hours a day.

Rubin says that Google's robotics R&D will actually be aimed at creating commercial products in the not-too-distant-future, unlike the X Lab, which is still toiling away on technology like the Google driverless car. Those might make it onto the road someday, but not soon. We may see walking Google bots before we see self-driving Google cars. Hopefully whatever breakthroughs Google makes over the next 10 years won't make all of our jobs redundant.