Amazon has drones, but Google's got robots - seven new robotics acquisitions, in fact

Amazon has drones, but Google's got robots - seven new robotics acquisitions, in fact

Summary: Google is building a new robotics unit that looks set to tackle the manufacturing industry.


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.

Topics: Google, Amazon, Emerging Tech

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Great idea

    let's put the rest of America out of work...
    • Automation is the best idea...

      This is exactly what is needed to force people into seeking education, rather than stagnating in a mindless and repetitive low-level job.

      Anything that can be done by automation should be done, freeing human minds for intellectual pursuits -- and repurposing wasted potential.
      • In case you have not noticed

        There are plenty of college graduates seeking jobs.
        For every 1000 displaced there will probably be 1 opening for someone to maintain the robots.
        • There is also more to program robot, advertise robot, design robot, market

          Watch the video. She talks about all the people who are needed like software engineers, electrical engineers, designers. There are a lot of jobs. Just not those types of jobs which would benefit illiterate people right now.
          Tim Jordan
    • A little shortsighted IMO

      The same accusation was leveled at every new technological advance throughout history. The nature of the work the 'displaced' workers do changes alongside technology - and despite the increasing population, making a living doing something continues at a similar ratio.

      Until this changes there will always be the unemployed, the employed, and those who do bugger-all but tell everyone else what to do. And they will all still feed themselves as they always have.

      There are enough resources on this planet to sustain a much larger population than we now have, and in relative luxury compared even to today. The reason why we all work is not because we have to eat, but that we have to provide for and entertain the lazy and greedy few percent who sit on those vast resources demanding we do something for them, and there is still plenty to be done even with all the machinery we now have actually doing it.

      Until machines control us - which will never happen hopefully - there will always be a person in the loop 'earning' their crust of daily bread overseeing the machine.

      What you are seeing is a change in provision. The human pyramid being flattened by machines, until we have a world where we are all equals and served by technology that sustains us and itself so efficiently no-one has to earn the crust at all, we just live our lives alongside the provision system. Instead of being the provision system.

      Granted this is idealistic, and wont happen as long as we let the acquisition of power drive us as a race. Money is power, the power to get someone (something) to do for us that which we dont want to do ourselves. Governments and the rich understand this and are not threatened by technology, because for them nothing will change when the 'common man' has the same amount of free time to play and arent needed to get their hands dirty in servitude.

      It isnt socialism either, something that Americans are fond of accusing me of. Socialism demands we share and help each other for the benefit of everyone and is actually itself threatened by the technology that would free us of sharing with and helping others.

      Just my penny's worth...

  • Skynet

    Google Skynet needs hunter killer robots!
  • LOL - Amazon has drones, but they are....

    only flying around in Bezos head!!!! It was already publicized about the concept of using drones to delliver to customers within 30 minutes of their various distribution centers, but aparently Bezos never bothered to do the demographic work to show that less than 10% or Amazon customers are located within 30 min of all their distribution centers (the centers are in lower cost semi-rural locations, not urban locations.)
    Aside from that, I can just see a bunch of "challenged citizens" standing in their yards with shotguns, just waiting for the sport of trying to take a drone down. Hee Hee... (If I thought of it, you can be sure many others have as well.)