The New York Times is reporting that Boston Dynamics, the company famous for robots like BigDog, LS3, Petman, Atlas, and WildCat, has been entirely swallowed up by Google.
Early this month, news broke that Google had acquired seven robotics startups and that Andy Rubin, the Google engineer who spearheaded the development of Android, is leading this new robots effort at the company. Google was said to be interested in using robots not for consumer applications but rather in logistics, manufacturing, and related activities. Details, however, were scarce, and Google’s robotics plan remains a mystery.
The acquisition of Boston Dynamics only makes things more nebulous. The previous robot companies bought by Google were all startups; most were trying to create new robotics technologies that could eventually find commercial applications. Boston Dynamics, on the other hand, was founded nearly 20 years ago and has focused on agile legged robots, relying mostly on military contracts.
One concern with acquisitions like these is that some of the companies that Google has bought do really, really cool stuff. That’s why Google bought them, of course, but what’s going to happen to the aforementioned cool stuff? Is Bot & Dolly going to continue to make awesome movies? Is Boston Dynamics going to continue to spend military money on wildly awesome robots? Or, is everything just going to disappear into some sort of R&D blender inside the Googleplex, losing all of that individual creativity in the name of a “moonshot” idea dreamed up by a few Google executives?
We’re certainly in favor of Google’s optimism about the future of robotics, and we hope the company will be able to integrate its recent acquisitions, with its different cultures and approaches, into a coherent strategy that can bring robots closer to everyday life.
As for BigDog, the robot that became Boston Dynamics’ first YouTube sensation (this blog was the first to post a video of the robot five years ago), we’re sure Google will find good uses for it. Which is to say we totally expect to soon see Google engineers riding on the backs of BigDogs everyone on the Google campus.