Google to sell innovative robotics company Boston Dynamics

boston dynamics robot roundup bostondynamics4
Boston Dynamics
After a little more than two years since Google acquired the robotic design company Boston Dynamics, the tech giant announced Thursday it’s decided to put the group up for sale. Though shocking on its face, Google’s decision to sell the promising firm stems from internal strife regarding the absence of a marketable product. According to a report published by Bloomberg, potential buyers include a subsidiary of Toyota called the Toyota Research Institute, and Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.com Inc.

Google’s 2013 purchase of Boston Dynamics came in a long line of robotics acquisitions by the company, headed by former Android chief Andy Rubin. After Rubin left the company roughly a year later, Google’s robotic division (dubbed Replicant) had a difficult time finding a new director and suffered a severe lack of outside collaboration. It’s said that Boston Dynamics’ objections to working with other Google engineers are mainly responsible for the divide.

Boston Dynamics' updated Atlas robot
Boston Dynamics’ updated Atlas robot Boston Dynamics

As stresses continued to mount, the conflict took a turn toward the public eye last November after a series of emails and meeting notes were accidentally published to a Google company forum. During the meeting, Jonathan Rosenberg — Alphabet CEO Larry Page’s assistant — said we as a startup of our size cannot spend 30-plus percent of our resources on things that take ten years.” Moreover, Rosenberg pointed out that Google wants an enterprise capable of generating revenue to cover its own costs.

Shortly after this meeting, Google began its complete restructuring of the company into Google Alphabet. Its new robotic division, called Google X, absorbed Replicant though Boston Dynamics was oddly absent from the move. Google X head Astro Teller reportedly told employees of Replicant that unless its robotic work provided practical solutions for Google, it would be reassigned. Shade thrown at Boston Dynamics? Likely.

Despite what seemed like writing on the wall, Boston Dynamics trudged on with its own robotics research, posting a video of its latest accomplishment to YouTube last month. An update of its previous Atlas line of robots, the new video showed an extremely advanced AI humanoid standing on its own two feet, walking through a snowy forest, and attempting to pick up a box while an employee teased it. Once the “Humanoid Lives Matter” noise quieted down, many were left speechless at the company’s technological advancement.

One of the original Atlas robots
One of the original Atlas robots Boston Dynamics

Though the video amassed 14 million views and a number of ecstatic tech articles drooling over the possibilities, Google remained uncomfortable with the future of Boston Dynamics. According to more emails made public, Google had serious concerns about the company’s affiliation with Alphabet and instead desired to move away from the group.

“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” wrote Courtney Hohne, Google’s director of communications. “We’re not going to comment on this video because there’s not a whole lot we can add, and we don’t want to answer most of the Qs it triggers.”

In the same note, Hohne advised those she was communicating with to “distance X from this video,” and cited an unwillingness to start a new “media cycle” on BD’s involvement with Google. So while people may have joked about how Boston Dynamics’ mistreatment of the robot could spark a robotic uprising, it seems Google took that response to heart and decided to take Google X in a different direction.

Emerging Tech

Body surrogate robot helps people with motor impairments care for themselves

A team from Georgia Tech has come up with an assistant robot to help people who have severe motor impairments to perform tasks like shaving, brushing their hair, or drinking water.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous image of the Cosmic Bat nebula leaves us starry-eyed

The "Cosmic Bat" nebula has been captured in beautiful detail by the European Southern Observatory. Formally known as NGC 1788, the nebula is two thousand light-years away in a dark corner of the Orion constellation.
Emerging Tech

This very talented robotic leg learned to walk all by itself

Researchers at the University of Southern California have developed a robotic limb capable of walking without preprogrammed knowledge of the task. It’s an impressive feat that could help future robots navigate the world independently.
Home Theater

You can get a peek at Ikea’s Symfonisk Sonos speakers next month

Ikea's new Symfonisk speaker collaboration with Sonos to be in stores as soon as August, and we'll get our first look at an event in Milan on April 9. The price? Within reach of "many people."
Computing

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.
Computing

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.
Business

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.
Emerging Tech

A silver bullet is being aimed at the drug-resistant superbugs on the ISS

A bacteria which is benign here on Earth can mutate into a drug-resistant superbug once it enters space. Now this problem is being tackled by a team of microbiologists who have found a way to inhibit the spread of bacteria in the ISS.
Emerging Tech

Tombot is the hyper-realistic dog robot that puts Spot to shame

Forget Boston Dynamics’ Spot! When it comes to robot dogs, the folks behind a new Kickstarter campaign have plans to stake their claim as makers of man’s (and woman’s) newest best friend.
Emerging Tech

Researchers gave alligators headphones and ketamine, and all for a good cause

Researchers in Germany and the United States recently gave ketamine and earphones to alligators to monitor how they process sounds. Here's what it reveals about alligator evolution.
Emerging Tech

Cheese tastes different when it listens to Led Zeppelin, Swiss study finds

A funky new study says that exposing cheese to music changes its aroma and flavor. What’s more, the genre of music matters. Researchers from the Bern University of Arts played music to nine, 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese.