04
Dec
robots

When Android founder Andy Rubin announced that he was leaving the Android team back in May of this year, it was a shock to say the least. At the time Mr. Rubin confirmed that he was staying with Google itself, but declined to say what his new role would be. Six months later, a report from the New York Times seems to have the first information on what he's been doing. I'll give you a hint: it's robots.

rubin robot

Photo credit: Jim Wilson/New York Times

Yes, robots. That's not some kind of corporate codename for a new hardware platform running Android, we're talking about actual robots. Industrial robots, specifically: according to the NYT report, Google has quietly acquired no less than seven robotics companies, some which were barely in the startup phase, to bolster a new team of engineers and software developers headed by Rubin. The aim is to explore untapped markets in manufacturing and logistics, which Rubin says are not being served by conventional robotics technology.

US and Japanese companies have been folded into the new team, including robot camera specialists Bot & Dolly and Industrial Perception, robot developers Schaft, Meka Robotics, and Redwood Robotics, and design firms Autofuss and Holomni. At least some of these companies are focused on humanoid robots, or at least they were before being acquired. Google's precise intention might not be clear, but their resolve certainly is. Two separate offices in Palo Alto and Japan will combine efforts with these newly-acquired companies and seasoned Google employees in either a new Google sub-group (like the secretive X-Labs behind Google Glass) or a subsidiary.

m1_robo_dance

The M1 Mobile Manipulator, a four-foot tall humanoid robot capable of basic manipulation tasks, built by Meka Robotics. Google acquired Meka sometime in the last six months.

Automation in general and robotics in particular are a booming speculative market - just ask Google's driverless car team, or Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who recently unveiled a plan to deliver packages via automated flying drones. Google's effort would be less dramatic since it's aimed at industrial and business-to-business markets, and the New York Times reports that several specialists are guessing that it's related to automating portions of the supply chain.

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For his part, Rubin is no stranger to the robotics field. He worked as a robotics engineer for high-end optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss AG from 1986 to 1989, ten years before he co-founded Danger and started working in the mobile sector. Rubin told The Times that he has become frustrated with the complexities of the consumer electronics industry, and hopes that the new robotics venture will be different, focusing on pure hardware and software.

The New York Times report is extensive, but for the moment Rubin is keeping nearly all the details of Google's new robotics venture close to the chest. In a tacit confirmation of the information in the report (what little there is of it), Google's current CEO Larry Page linked to the NYT article from his Google+ account.

Source: The New York Times via Larry Page Google+

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/108482452903817442299/posts Andrew Bone

    Now if they just do something with Android @ home and have a commercial robot that links in with that I'd be happy

    • I, Robot

      You should really watch "I, Robot" ;)

  • Nabil L

    The first robot should be a huge Bugdroid !

  • PhoenixPath

    So he quit working on Android to ... work on Androids?

    • http://thegumshoe.com/ Michael Crider

      I had to resist that joke in the story. It wasn't easy.

      • PhoenixPath

        Resistance is fut...

        Never mind. I'm just gonna go get some coffee...

    • Arve Svendsen

      Next up, Tim Cooks quits his positing, now growing apple trees

      • walt

        Nah, he's gonna Cook Apple crusted key lime pies

    • Asphyx

      Actually he quit working on Android to work on Arnold!

      I'LL BE BACK!

  • Severo Rivera

    Interesting

  • RetsuUnohana

    I will laugh if they make something more usable than AIBO, 1 upping Sony in the process.

  • Alicia

    the invention will never stop

  • smeddy

    I was gutted when he left Android - but this was the one thing he could do to make me understand his decision.

  • Steve

    The Amazon drone looks like a flying-lawsuit generator to me. All its going to take is one of those things to hit somebody's children or pets and that's it for that!

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