While Amazon claims to be planning to make drones its new delivery drivers, Google is investigating robots in its latest 'moonshot' project.
Google has quietly acquired seven US and Japanese robotics firms in the past six months ahead of the launch of a new project that's being led by Andy Rubin, the former head of Android who vacated that role in March.
While Google hasn't been shy of letting the world know about its investments in outlandish projects, like driverless cars, Google Glass and air balloon broadband, it's been keeping its Google X robotics efforts a little more under wraps.
In an interview with the New York Times, Rubin said he had convinced Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page that now was the time to make a move into robotics, even though such a plan might not deliver results in the short term.
"Like any moonshot, you have to think of time as a factor. We need enough runway and a 10-year vision," Rubin told the paper.
The seven companies Rubin has helped Google acquire recently include Japan-based Schaft, a maker of humanoids, and Industrial Perception, which makes robotic 3D vision. US firms it has acquired include Meka, a MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab spinoff, and Redword Robotics. Both make humanoid robots and robot arms. Robotic camera system maker Bot & Dolly has also joined Google, as well as design firm Autofuss, and Holomni, a design firm that makes wheels.
The robotics efforts will not be aimed at consumers, but rather industrial applications with Rubin pointing to opportunities in manufacturing and logistics, highlighting frustrations with the complexity of the consumer electronics industry, which is dominated by labour-intensive assembly.
The robotics unit will be based in Palo Alto with offices in Japan, although it's not known yet whether it will operate as a group inside Google or as a separate subsidiary.