Google is reportedly developing robots for various tasks in a side effort that could turn out to be huge. The connective tissue for these robots is likely to be Android and cloud computing, which will allow heavy processing to occur elsewhere.
The New York Times reported that Andy Rubin, who led Google's Android effort, is cooking up robots in the lab for manufacturing and logistics. What's missing from the Times' story is the glue of what could be Google's bot army: The software.
Creating robots is a detour for Google in some sense, but the search giant is hardly first to the game. iRobot has popularized household robots with its Roomba line, and has made military bots for years. Honda has an interesting robotics effort and Japan has been tinkering with bots because it has an aging population that will need more than its share of helpers. NASA and GM also have a robotics partnership and Microsoft has a free Robotics Developer Studio.
Google has acquired its way into the robotics game via seven acquisitions, but any differentiation is likely to come from software and the cloud. To get some hints about the underlying code of Google's robots, it's worth flashing back to Google I/O 2011.
During that conference, Google outlined rosjava, a robot operating system compatible with Java and Android. Like many Google efforts, rosjava may be a launch and leave project. You can go back to many of Google's I/O launches and wonder what became of them.
However, Google's biggest takeaway from the 2011 I/O was that the actual processing on the robot could be minimal. With mobile connectivity, cloud computing could handle many processing tasks, give robots more capabilities and preserve power and memory.
The money slide went like this:
In the end, Google's robot efforts are a kind-of-sort-of moonshot effort. There are numerous robotics projects to track. What will make Google's robots different will be the interconnections via Android derivatives and the cloud. Rubin is just the right person to be leading the effort because he has the experience to enable Google to do something different with its robots.