Whew… with so many exciting things happening in the robotics field lately, I just couldn’t remain silent anymore…
We were all wowed by Amazon’s acquisition in 2012 of Kiva Systems for $775 million. Kiva’s clever self-propelled robots scoot around warehouses in a numeric control dance to retrieve and carry entire shelf-units of items to their proper packaging point.
In December 2013 and January 2014, Google bought 7 robotics companies investing an unknown amount of money. The Internet giant and pioneer of self-driving cars is serious about a robot-filled future. However we don’t know much about the intent of Google with all these acquisitions. They’re all a part of the Google X division, which is top secret by definition. Most of these companies have closed down their websites and retreated into stealth mode. My guess is that they are grouping up to decide the direction they’ll take to serve Google’s goals.
The robotics team is led by Andy Rubin, who recently stepped down as head of Android.
Here there is a brief summary of all Google’s acquisitions (and a bunch of links to dig deeper):
- Industrial Perception, Inc (IPI) - spun off of the Menlo Park robotics company Willow Garage. They have a 3D vision-guided robot to be used in manufacturing and logistics.
- Schaft Inc. The Japanese team that got its start at Tokyo University. They took the top prize at DARPA’s Robotics Challenge Trial with their bipedal robot.
- Redwood Robotics – started as a joint venture between Meka Robotics, SRI International, and Willow Garage (IPI’s parent). Redwood wants to build the “next generation arm” for robots.
- Meka Robotics – A very nice torso robot with very sophisticated hands in a mobile platform with wheels.
- Bot & Dolly – a design and engineering studio that specializes in automation, robotics, and filmmaking. They use robots to help film commercials and movies like Gravity.
- Holomini – The only thing we know about them is that they are creators of high-tech wheels for omnidirectional motion.
- Boston Dynamics – The most high-profile of all the robotic companies that Google has acquired so far. They have two main robots: ATLAS -the sophisticated humanoid robot and Cheetah, also called the BigDog that can reach 28 mph.
In the middle of January 2014, Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion dollars.
- Nest – is an automation startup whose product is a smoke and CO2 alarm that talks.
And at the end of January Google acquired DeepMind for more than $500 M (after having beaten out Facebook):
- DeepMind – is an AI research company out of London founded by neuroscientist Demis Hassabis, Skype developer Jaan Tallin, and researcher Shane Leggthe. They use the best techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms.
In 2012 Google hired Ray Kurzweil to work on machine learning and language processing, to actually understand the content of the Web pages and provide a better way to rank them beside the number of times a web site is mentioned in other web sites. According to Dr. Kurzweil… you will be able to “ask it more complex questions that might be a whole paragraph… It might engage in a dialogue with you to find out what you need… It might come back in two months if it finds something useful.”
And now Sir James Dyson (the bagless vacuum cleaner inventor) is investing £5M in the Imperial College London to develop a new generation of “intelligent domestic robots” (an Iron Man’s style robot), with a further £3 million investment from various sources over the next five years.
Dyson remains frustrated at his prototypes’ inability to navigate simple household obstacles after working on a robotic vacuum cleaner to go along with his company’s famous bagless line for as long as a decade. Indeed, even the greatest Roomba finds itself at a loss under a tangle of dining room chairs, and would shrug its shoulders when faced with a flight of stairs.”
Is the tide finally turning in robotics?