What many of us have anticipated and joked about (uneasily) for years is now coming to fruition. Google is quickly assembling an army of robots. The company has acquired eight robotics companies (that we know of), and is using them for something that it is saying very little about.
What would you like to see Google do with robots? Let us know in the comments.
The initiative, as little as we really know about it, was revealed earlier this month when The New York Times shed some light on it, saying that Google is "tight-lipped about its specific plans," but noting that the amount of money Google is putting into it, "indicates that this is no cute science project."
In other words, this isn't Google just messing around. Google is up to something big here, and it means business. What that means for the rest of us is to be determined.
With the original report, we learned that former Android chief Andy Rubin was behind the project, and that Google had acquired Schaft, Industrial Perception, Meka, Redwood Robotics, Bot & Dolly, Autofuss (specializing in video production) and Holomni. The news of the weekend was that Google has added Boston Dynamics to the list. This is one of the most famous (if not the most famous) robotics companies on the Internet. Its robots have gained a massive amount of attention in recent years, and with good reason. They're truly amazing, and in most cases deeply terrifying on a "holy crap, this Terminator thing is really happening" kind of way.
I mean seriously. All joking aside, some of these machines are very human and animal-like. And they're strong, powerful and fast. They're exactly the kinds of things you wouldn't want falling into the wrong hands. The question is: are Google's the right hands?
Google has long had the "do no evil" mantra, but it is frequently accused of doing evil things, whether justified or not. As we live in times when real drones killing real people is not science fiction, but a harsh reality, people are right to question just what Google (or anyone) is going to do with these things.
We're not saying Google is going to send out robots to kill people, but let's hope Google's intentions are not evil in any way. Perhaps they should at least talk a little more about their plans. This is a company, after all, that has been paying for "accidentally" collecting people's data through Street View cars, and is apparently going to track people through physical stores to give data to advertisers.
Boston Dynamics works with the military - DARPA, the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps - and Google says it will honor existing contracts, but doesn't intend to become a military contractor on its own, according to the Times.
Google does apparently intend to make good B2B use of its robots, however. According to the first NYT report about Rubin and the seven robot companies, Google isn't aiming at consumers ("yet"), but manufacturing and "competing with companies like Amazon in retailing". It mentions "automating portions of an existing supply chain that stretches from a factory floor to the companies that ship and deliver goods to a consumers' doorstep."
The report also mentions Google's product delivery service (Google Shopping Express), suggesting that "Perhaps someday, there will be automated delivery to the doorstep."
Amazon recently shared its version of such an scenario, though the skepticism about the possibility of the Amazon Prime Air drone service has been very loud. So far, Amazon can't legally operate such flying drones. It's entirely possible that they won't be able to anytime soon either.
“Nothing they’re contemplating right now fits with that vision,” a source familiar with the FAA’s policy efforts told Yahoo Finance. “I don’t see it happening.”
But Boston Dynamics' robots don't fly. They walk, run, jump and climb walls. And who knows what they'll be building as a part of Google? Could a human-like delivery bot riding a robot cheetah be more realistic? How about one riding in a self-driving car, and walking your package up to your doorstep?
Some are more concerned about the "evil" of Google potentially destroying jobs than any physical threat.
But hey, enough with the doom and gloom. There's no arguing that Google has contributed a lot of great things to the world and to society, and robots could be part of some things more along those lines, right?
What do you expect Google to do with robots? Are you concerned or do you expect the company to do some really great things? Share your thoughts in the comments.