Google Acquires Seven Robot Companies, Wants Big Role in Robotics

The company is funding a major new robotics group and acquiring a bunch of robot startups

2 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum's Digital Innovation Director.

Google is funding a major new robotics group and acquiring a bunch of robot startups

A few months ago, we heard rumors that Google was planning something big in robotics. We also heard that Andy Rubin, the engineer who spearheaded the development of Android at Google, was leading this new robotics effort at the company. Rubin, we were told, is personally interested in robots, and now he wants Google to have a major role in making robotics happen. Not just robotic cars, but actual robots. Today, an article in the New York Times has revealed more about Google's plans: according to the article, the company is funding a major new robotics group, and that includes acquiring a bunch of robotics startups, quite a few of which we're familiar with.

You'll definitely want to read the entire New York Times story, where Rubin talks a little bit too vaguely about what Google is actually planning on doing with these as-yet hypothetical robots that they're apparently working on over there, but here's the bit about the acquisitions:

Mr. Rubin has secretly acquired an array of robotics and artificial intelligence start-up companies in the United States and Japan.

Among the companies are Schaft, a small team of Japanese roboticists who recently left Tokyo University to develop a humanoid robot, and Industrial Perception, a start-up here that has developed computer vision systems and robot arms for loading and unloading trucks. Also acquired were Meka and Redwood Robotics, makers of humanoid robots and robot arms in San Francisco, and Bot & Dolly, a maker of robotic camera systems that were recently used to create special effects in the movie “Gravity.” A related firm, Autofuss, which focuses on advertising and design, and Holomni, a small design firm that makes high-tech wheels, were acquired as well.

The seven companies are capable of creating technologies needed to build a mobile, dexterous robot. Mr. Rubin said he was pursuing additional acquisitions.

Some brief highlights:

  • Schaft is one of the Track A teams participating in the DARPA Robotics Challenge with their own custom robot based on the HRP-2.
  • Industrial Perception spun out of Willow Garage back in March of 2012; read our Startup Spotlight post on them here.
  • Meka Robotics builds research robots with series elastic actuators in them; they're probably best known for the M1 humanoid (pictured above in front of the Google logo) and Dreamer, which you can read about here.
  • Redwood Robotics is (was) a collaboration between Willow Garage, SRI, and Meka that was supposedly designing a very low cost robotic arm. We've been asking around and haven't heard much for the last year or so, maybe now we know why.
  • And of course, there's Bot & Dolly, which uses robot arms for precise and repeatable camera control, making things way more awesome than "precise and repeatable camera control" probably makes you think of.

Obviously, we're curious about what other acquisitions Rubin is pursuing, and more generally, just what Google is actually working on. Fortunately for us, the Google robotics group will at least initially be based right here in Palo Alto, meaning that I'll get a chance to put my spy drones and ninja outfit to good use.

Via [ NYT ]

Image (composite): Meka Robotics; Google

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