The title of this article came to me suddenly while a frigid breeze blasted my face and body as I walked to class. I knew instantly that this was the best idea I have ever had and ever will have. I had to write about Google’s blatant interest in robotics just so I could have this headline.
Google X lab is where science fiction ideas come to life. Driverless cars, glasses that augment your vision with technology and using balloons to provide Internet access for everyone. Maybe it will be successful, maybe not. That is for the the future to decide. For now, the avant-garde Google group that has taken hold of the imagination of the tech industry is not Google X, but an unnamed one. Android founder Andy Rubin has always had a love for robotics, and when he left the Android group, rumors swirled that he was finally getting a chance to work on his dreams.
In the past two months, Google has made a string of purchases that have “robot” in the name of the purchased companies. Recently, Rubin granted The New York Times an interview where he was sparse on details, but he did confirm that he is leading a division inside Google that is working on robotics. Skynet’s awakening and the robot apocalypse is nearly upon us.
All of the companies that Google bought are interesting in their own right (i.e., integral to the upcoming robot massacre of humans), though the most interesting and popular one is Boston Dynamics. They are known for building an assortment of complex robots from walking ones to four-legged abominations that can cross rough terrain. Two, they have YouTube videos. Even the military is incredibly interested in the technology being developed at Boston Dynamics, so it is a surprise that Google managed to nab them off the market before anyone else. They already have a contract with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which Google says will still be honored.
Frankly, some of these robots are scary, both in the technology they represent and their physical appearance. If you haven’t seen the aforementioned YouTube videos before, you may want to stay away. The unnatural yet natural (it is like a robot uncanny valley) movements of the various robots at their disposal is alternately amazing and terrifying.
No one knows exactly what the purpose of this new Google division is. There are rumors it is for manning factories and warehouses to help with manufacturing”“ a sort of new industrial revolution that will bring more manufacturing jobs to the U.S. (replace Chinese kids you don’t pay with robots you don’t pay). Robots probably won’t be a household feature in the next five years, or maybe not even in the next 10 years. The time is coming, though. Like Pandora’s Box, there is no turning back now. The question becomes what happens now.
On a somewhat related note, Google has also purchased Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. For those who do not know, Nest is a technology company that is focused on home technology, like a thermostat that adapts to your preferences automatically or a smoke detector that is not incredibly annoying. Nest’s focus on home solutions is of interest to Google due to their vision of a smart home ““ a home where technology is integrated seamlessly at every step. I cannot wait to flush my toilet with a tap on my smartphone in my hand rather than having to move my elbows 180 degrees back then tilt my wrist to flush.