Google’s Alphabet Places ‘For Sale’ Sign On Boston Dynamics

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Google reportedly signals retreat from robotics and looks for buyers of Boston Dynamics division

The parent company of Google (Alphabet) has reportedly put its robotics division (Boston Dynamics) up for sale, two years after buying the company.

The retreat from robotics signals Alphabet’s focus on extracting real world revenue streams from its so called “moonshot” projects.

Robot Dreams

Google has always harboured robotic ambitions, and in December 2013 it completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics – one of the world’s most innovative robot design companies, made famous by DARPA-funded projects such as the robotic pack mule BigDog and bipedal humanoid rescue worker Atlas.

The price of the acquisition was never revealed, but was engineered by Andy Rubin, former chief of the Android division.

Now Bloomberg, which cited two people familiar with the company’s plans, reported that Alphabet has put the unit up for sale.

The exact reason for the sale was not given, but it has been suggested that Alphabet is now applying cold hard logic to the various Google “moonshot” projects, and executives believe that Boston Dynamics isn’t likely to produce a marketable product in the next few years, and hence it will not deliver revenue and a return to investors.

The same report suggest that possible buyers of Boston Dynamics includes Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp, and Amazon.com, which makes robots for its fulfilment centres.

Neither of these firms decided to comment on the matter.

MIT Spin-Off

Boston Dynamics was spun off from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) way back in 1992. The company is noted for creating robots that run, climb sheer walls and jump over obstacles.

BigDog_SnowThis includes BigDog (pictured left) – a three feet long, 240 pound quadruped robot that can traverse rough terrain at four miles per hour, while carrying another 340 pounds on its back. This metal beast was designed for the Army, to act as a means of cargo transport in the areas with no roads.

It also created Atlas, a 330 pound humanoid robot (pictured below) that was able to navigate through rubble, independently climb over barricades and even balance on one leg. In the future, Atlas or its descendants could participate in search and rescue operations, capable of opening doors and operating equipment designed for humans.

Front view of the humanoid robot Atlas, created by DARPA and Boston DynamicsThe Bloomberg report also suggests that Boston Dynamics never really settled into the Google corporate structure. After Andy Rubin left Google, Boston Dynamics robot initiative (dubbed Replicant), was reportedly plagued by leadership changes, failures to collaborate between companies and an unsuccessful effort to recruit a new leader.

Bloomberg, citing a person familiar with the group, said there was a reluctance by Boston Dynamics executives to work with Google’s other robot engineers in California and Tokyo. It also failed to come up with products that could be released in the near term.

The report also cited ongoing tensions between Google’s Replicant group (now part of Google’s advanced research group, Google X) and Boston Dynamics.

It should be noted that Google retains a number of robotic patents, including a patent to give robots customised personalities.

At the moment however, it remains unclear as to the exact shape of Google’s robotic ambitions going forward.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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