Just last week Google acquired Boston Dynamics, a robotics company famous for developing robots for the U.S. military and DARPA. This brings the total number of robotics firms under Google’s wing to eight in just six months, and more are expected to join them in the near future.
Boston Dynamics is the most recent convert, but other buys include Redwood Robots, which made programmable robotic arms, and Holomni, which was developing robotic wheels. These two purchases make sense for a company that is embarking on manufacturing and robotic car ventures. However, the militarily skewed work of Boston Dynamics sheds a somewhat more menacing light on the rainbow colored internet companion. These acquisitions come among rumors that Google is working on getting its own robotics start up off the ground and this goes a long way in in solidifying these suspicions.
Boston Dynamics is responsible for the creation of several robots designed to be used by the U.S. military under such names as BigDog, WildCat, and Cheetah. Several YouTube videos of each machine have generated millions of views of BigDog intelligently traversing ice, rubble, and mud while carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment that would otherwise be strapped to soldiers. Also their robot WildCat smoothly galloping and bounding up to 16 miles per hour, to Cheetah sprinting at more than 28 miles per hour.
Other work by Boston Dynamics includes PetMan, a humanoid robot that just finished walking trials and will be used to test chemical protection suits, and Atlas, another humanoid machine designed for search and rescue missions. The work is all very impressive, but there is some concern that it will be used in harmful ways, given that Boston Dynamics is a branch of the Pentagon. Google has said that all of the companies they have acquired will honor their existing contracts but it has no intention of becoming a military research company itself.
Much of the speculation swirling around Google’s motives in adding another robotics firms has to do with concern over what a company with access to the personal information of billions of people, detailed maps of the entire world, and now the means to fashion and produce any conceivable kind of robotic minion will do with such capabilities. Combined with Google’s machine learning algorithms, heavily tested and fine tuned by their years of internet search mastery, highly intelligent and adaptable robots seem to be the inevitable result, despite their intended purpose remaining unclear.
There is significant evidence that Google is simply preparing for the eventual loss of income that relying purely on advertisement impressions will eventually cause. Branching out into projects that seem completely unrelated to the goal of the company as a whole, has become something of a trademark of Google. In recent years, Google sunk resources into life extensions, Wi-Fi balloons, ultra high speed internet. and self driving cars.
By adding another robotics company it is unclear what Google is trying to expand. Their dominance into the real world or is indeed simply insuring its future is yet to be seen. Whatever results come from the gradual shifting of focus seen at Google are sure to raise eye brows if not profits in the future.
By Daniel O’Brien