Google – the company that has brought us self-driving cars, augmented reality glasses and plans for floating weather balloons to deliver WiFi – is moving into robotics.
The firm confirmed earlier this week that it has bought Boston Dynamics, a firm behind terrifying creations such as Big Dog and Wild Cat, which can move at rapid speeds and demonstrate high levels of control when in motion.
Google hasn’t said what it plans to do with the purchase yet, which is understandable. But when the announcement comes, you can bet your bottom dollar it’ll be something suitably grandiose and ludicrous, given the company’s love of madcap programmes, such as those mentioned above, or photographing the entire world.
With huge amounts of cash in the bank and one of the most technically skilled workforces in the world, there is no doubt Google will set about doing some serious tinkering in 2014 and the fruits of its labours may well start coming to light in the years following.
The move by commercially focused companies such as Google into the area of real-world style robotics is hugely exciting, and could open up this area as one of the next great waves of innovation, and not before time.
While behind the scenes advances in robotics have no doubt been impressive, for the general public it is an area that remains the preserve of subservient creations, such as C-3PO in Star Wars, or comic creations such as Kryten from Red Dwarf (or again, C-3PO).
Sure, there’s the occasional robot that appears on some TV shows and manages to walk down steps or do a dance, but it’s rarely that impressive and doesn't appear to be really impacting the world.
Not really, not in a world where technology is second nature and people hanker after – and expect – world-changing innovations all the time, and want things that can actually make a difference to their lives.
This doesn’t mean robot butlers that can be programmed to give us foot rubs and make us dinner are on their way, but if Google is prepared to invest time and money in this area, there must be areas it believes robots are ready to help.
Indeed, while the Boston Dynamics purchase caught the headlines thanks to the amazing – and somewhat alarming – capabilities of its main robots, Google has actually bought seven robotics firms already on the sly.
Not only that, but Google has put Andy Rubin, the man who turned Android (coincidence?) into a mega-platform used by billions of devices around the world, as the head of this area of innovation.
Clearly this is no small-scale project for Google, and Rubin will know a commercial idea when he sees it. Speaking to The New York Times earlier in December, Rubin said he considers robotics a "green field" and one that is ripe for some innovation.
While Google's efforts may not come to light for some time, it is fascinating to glimpse another new area of innovation and imagination that is being worked on at one of the world's leading firms.
It also makes you wonder what the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Intel, to name a few, have going on behind closed doors, as tech vendors seek the next major trend to dominate. Let's just hope they remember to build in some principals governing robots' interactions with humans.
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