Google Gets Back Into Robotics

If at first one doesn’t succeed …

Google is reportedly back in the robotics game, according to a The New York Times report. It said the company “has quietly been retooling an ambitious, but troubled, robotics program that was once led by an executive who left the company amid accusations of sexual harassment.”

As PYMNTS covered in 2017, SoftBank, the Japanese telecommunications company, announced that a subsidiary of SoftBank entered into a definitive agreement to acquire robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics from Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Boston Dynamics was known for creating animal-like robots with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities — including BigDog, Cheetah and AlphaDog.

However, Google never made its ambitions for the company clear. Before Boston Dynamics was acquired by Google, it was largely funded by the U.S. military’s research arm, DARPA. Under Google, though, it stopped pursing DARPA contacts.

Now, the report said, Google is rebuilding the program “with robots that are much more simple than the humanoid-shaped machines” that were a feature of the earlier efforts. The new effort called Robotics at Google includes engineers who had a hand in that previous work, the report said, and “is led by Vincent Vanhoucke, a principal scientist at Google.”

According to the report, the new robots Google is working on “may not be as eye-catching as humanoid robots, [but] Google researchers believe that the subtly more-advanced technology inside them gives them more potential in the real world. The company is developing ways for these robots to learn skills on their own, like sorting through a bin of unfamiliar objects or navigating a warehouse filled with unexpected obstacles.”


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