Google buys Boston Dynamics, the Big Dog of robotics companies

Google buys Boston Dynamics, the Big Dog of robotics companies

Summary: In its splurge of acquisitions, Google has added a seventh robotics company to the stable being run by Android creator Andy Rubin. But what's it for?

TOPICS: Google
BigDog_Snow (200 x 134)
BigDog in the snow. Photo: Boston Dynamics

Not satisfied with buying seven robotics companies in the past six months, Google has added the creator of the BigDog robot, Boston Dynamics, for an undisclosed sum.

This makes the company a supplier of military hardware. However, Google executives told the New York Timeswhich broke the story —  that it "would honor existing military contracts, but that it did not plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own".

Boston Dynamics has developed a number of robots apparently inspired by animals, such as BigDog, Cheetah, and WildCat. It is also working on humanoid robots, with Atlas and Petman featuring on its YouTube video channel.

Google is making a significant push into robotics under the direction of Andy Rubin, who joined the company when it acquired his small startup company, Android Inc. Rubin started his career as a robotics engineer in Germany in the 1990s, and used a robot for Android's mascot.

Google's other robotics companies include Autofuss and Bot & Dolly, Schaft, Industrial Perception, Meka, Redwood Robotics, and Holomni.

Earlier, Rubin told the New York Times that he was working on "a 10-year vision". It's far from obvious what that might be. Robots such as BigDog have military applications as 21st century pack mules, which is why the Pentagon is funding this kind of research. The Darpa-funded Atlas is aimed at developing robots that can operate in disaster scenarios such as a nuclear power plant meltdown, but again, these would most likely be state-controlled operations, if not military-controlled.

Such robots could also be "weaponised", though Google presumably has no plans to build real-life equivalents to fictional Terminator-style robots.

The income from robotics is currently much too small to make any difference to Google's financial results, unless it comes up with a very popular toy — Boston Dynamics contributed to the Sony Aibo robot pet — or a "killer application" (sorry, not literally). The most likely prospect is the use of robots to help the care of the elderly, which is topic being researched in Japan.

Either way, Google makes so much money from its core advertising business that it can afford to waste billions on speculative projects, and this one could turn out to be a winner.


Further reading

Topic: Google

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • Amazing!

    It's not going to take over the world soon!!!
    • You are a Robot!

      A human being is a robot.

      You consist of a machine (a body) coupled with a computer program (a brain).

      Boston Dynamics builds the body. Google already has the brain.
      • Google does not have the programming skills

        they are after all an advertising company, not a software development company, keep that in mind.
        • Don't forget: The borg can learn

          Google might be the closest we've come to artificial intelligence.

          It self-programs. In other words, it learns.

          For example, Google Translate is learns language by studying millions of pages of text, and looking for patterns and strings. The Google machine learns lots of other things on its own, too.

          Combine that with a body, and you've got something scary.
        • Actually, they are rather big in software development...

          Having written the largest search engine program ever...

          And (though the expertise was bought) they also do rather well with phones...

          And in self driving cars...

          This is just another field they have purchased some expertise in.

    • Very Impressive...

      ....the scary bit is the lack of a head. Some thing behaving like normal animal that does not have a head!
  • Google once again showing they lead in innovation

    A certain 'fruit' company could learn a lot from Google on how to be at the forefront of new technologies. Acquisition should be a big part of a large entrepreneurial company.

    Google is working on a global balloon based Internet offering, floating barges, robotics, self driven cars, human life extension and many others...

    Apple acquires companies so you can unlock your phone with your finger, a better version of something that already exists on countless Lenovo laptops.
    • Fruits

      Apple are a fashion company.

      They cannot afford to be associated with random thoughts and ideas and experiments. The fanbois are revolting. Sorry wrong tense, the fanbois will revolt if there is less than perfection in any product.

      I don't mind Apple products however I don't want to pay any kind of premium for one. Someone gave me an old Mark 1 iPod Shuffle (it looks like a traditional USB memory stick lipstick thingy) and it is brilliant so I am not rabidly anti-Apple. (Although I hate the general apple stuff that has - no user battery change, no flash expansion, proprietary cable, ludicrius prices, no free development system that I can run on my PC (that was the killer for me regarding iPhone, I will probably never use it (old and nearly decrepit) but if I choose I can develop an Android app on my PC for free)).

      Like any and every fashion business one day they will make a fatal mistake and they will disappear forever in the blink of an eye.

      Google are using a different model entirely, Samsung yet another one. My prediction is that both will outlive Apple.

      I can NEVER envisage queuing for hours or even days to buy some new thing to get it the day before my mates. I will just toddle along the day after the rush, walk in and buy one. I guess I just don't get it:-)
    • innovated ??

      like what, they buy in technology, and sell advertising, I have yet to see ANYTHING from Google that is the least bit innovative..

      Looks like they have got something right though, selling HYPE !!!
      • Their original product - the search engine and database.

        And big in distributed computing (mapreduce aka the "cloud" ... anything ring a bell?)
        • not really

          search engines, were around before Google
          Databases were around before Google
          Distributed computing was around before Google.

          Got to do better than that !
  • Massive Dynamics?

    I swear if Google opens parallel universes we're doomed
  • skynet

    It obvious Skynet it controlling Google from behind the scenes and this is just it building it army for the coming war.
    • Of course. Extinction. Why didn't I think of that?

      I did watch Terminator. Cyborgs. Extinction of the human race.

      Now I understand Google's master plan ;)
    • I must admit: You a right!

      DoJ blocked them from invading the US using the old copyright infringement trick. So they bought the patent.

  • What's with Google's obsession with droids, robots, etc.?

    There's Droid, Android, and now all these robot companies. Plus they have ol' "Mr. Singularity", Ray Kurzweil, trying how to figure out how to live forever. That's not innovative. That's creepy!
  • Skynet Begins

    Skynet begins
    • SKYNET

  • poor elderly !

    caring for the elderly !!!

    great, just one more thing to look forward too in your old age, being 'cared' for by a freaking robot !! Sorry, but if you think a robot "cares" I have news for you!..

    sure it might be technically possible but what about morally?