With the announcement a few weeks ago that Amazon would be using robotic drones for their deliveries, it seemed inevitable that Google would also announce their interest in robotics. As if our fears about robots taking over the world weren’t real enough!
And according to the New York Times on Friday, Google has done just that and acquired an engineering company called Boston Dynamics, which designs mobile research robots for the Pentagon.
You may recognize some of these robots for their unique animal-like design and their ability to stay balanced on four legs.
The robots include BigDog, a four-legged, gas powered walking robot seen here running up hills, plowing through snow, and even managing to stay upright after a kick from one of its programmers. Production on BigDog started back in 2003 thanks to contributing robotics experts at British robot maker Foster-Miller, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Harvard.
Other more recent robots that Google acquired in the deal include the robot WildCat, another four-legged robot seen here running across a parking lot at high speeds, as well as the miniature robot Cheetah seen here that was recently clocked at reaching speeds of 29 mph. That shattered the previous record of 13.1 mph by a robot, even though, thankfully, the Cheetah is slower than a real cheetah, which can reach top speeds of 65mph.
To put that into perspective, that’s about one mile an hour faster than Jamaica’s two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Usain Bolt in the 100 meter dash!
Last but not least is the eerily-humanoid PETMAN, a two-legged robot that looks oddly enough like the Terminator. Boston Dynamics has also designed robots that can climb walls and trees as well as other two- and four-legged walking robots. According to Google executive Andy Rubin, it’s like “computers are starting to sprout legs and move around in the environment.”
Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has not sold robots commercially, and has done most of its work for Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
Google says that it will still honor most of Boston Dynamics’ contracts, including a $10.8 million contract to DARPA. The company is supplying a set of humanoid robots named Atlas to participate in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a two-year contest with a $2 million prize. The contest’s goal is creating a class of robots that can operate in natural disasters and catastrophes like the nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan.
Google has also acquired robotics companies in Japan and here in the United States, companies that have specialized in a range of technologies from software for advanced robot arms to grasping technology and computer vision. Rubin has also said that he is interested in advancing sensor technology, perhaps a call-back to his days working on the Android smartphone.
Although they have declined declined to say what kind of products these robotics acquisitions will lead to, Google has hinted that commercial robots could become available in the next several years.
It’s a “moonshot,” says Rubin, but according to a tweet he posted after the deal was made, “The future is looking awesome!” We agree, and we can’t wait to see what Google comes up with.