Google has recently purchased Boston Dynamics, a robot engineering company home to some of the greatest experimental robots in the world. Their main robots include a cheetah that run at a top speed of 28.3 mph (currently the fastest running robot in the world), the humanoid Atlas that can navigate outdoor terrain (and even climb), and Bigdog, a mule-like robot capable of carrying 340 lbs of supplies (and possibly ready for integration into the army). With this single acquisition Google has placed itself towards the top of the robotics world.
It is clear that google has had a long-held interest in robotics. Google has completed multiple driverless car projects to date. They have also expanded their services to include Sketchup, a 3d design program for use with 3D printing (a necessity for creating complex robots). However, what does Google plan to do with Boston Dynamics? And why was it necessary for them to purchase Industrial Perception, Inc., Schaft Inc., DeepMind Technologies, Bot & Dolly, Holomini, Meka Robotics, and Redwood Robotics as well?
Perhaps Google wants to get a head start in designing and building personal robotics, a currently small but extremely profitable industry. Remember, Google was late to the mobile market with Android. Had they been any later like Microsoft, their mobile platform never would have taken off. Perhaps purchasing robotic firms and starting experimental projects early is their way of ensuring there will no longer be any close calls. After all, Apple has yet to acquire robot engineering companies. If Apple does not move fast, Google may be competing with Honda in this sector of the economy.
Alternatively, Google might have its eyes set upon designing and building military robots. This is also a promising niche that there current acquisitions can work to fill. However, if true this would change the entire nature of the company, as Google historically has worked open-source and independent of government support.
Yet another possibility is Google planning on space exploration. This possibility may seem a little far-fetched, but is still a possibility. After all, robots are the ones dominating space exploration and repairs, not astronauts. If Google can find a way to repair satellites, they are opening the door to a whole new, untapped market.
Still, one thing is clear—Google does not seem to have an interest in the hobby robotics industry. They have not purchased any hobby related robot company, nor have they shown any interest in designing a platform for robot enthusiasts. Had they held an interest, I would think that they would purchase TI with their Launchpad or, better yet, Arduino, Parallax, or Pololu.
Google’s apathy towards hobby robotics seems to show that the company may be working on moving away from their open-source past and present. Is this change going to be slight, or will Google come to control and monitor their products like Apple currently does? Does this indicate Google may be interested in developing military robotics? If Google does change their approach, how will these changes affect robotics?