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Google robots to battle Amazon's drones

Google has acquired 7 companies over the last six months in order to kick start its robotics division, though the main focus will be on manufacturing and retail

James Vincent
Thursday 05 December 2013 13:22
The Meka M1 Mobile manipulator is built by Meka, one of Google's recent acquisitions.
The Meka M1 Mobile manipulator is built by Meka, one of Google's recent acquisitions.

It seems that future battles between technology companies will be fought via robotic proxy, with Amazon’s delivery-by-drone announcement matched by Google revealing their own secret robotics division.

The news comes directly from Andy Rubin, one of Google’s most respected senior executives and engineers. Speaking to the New York Times, Rubin said the company’s robotic research would be targeting manufacturing and retailing, but that “like any moonshot” the project would need “enough runway and a 10-year vision.”

The term moonshot is frequently used by Google employees in reference to the Google X Lab, the search giant’s research division responsible for ambitious projects including self-driving cars and Google Glass, but Rubin stressed that the robotics project is separate from this.

In order to further this goal Google has ‘opened their checkbook’ to Rubin’s project, buying up seven robotics companies from the US and Japan in order to bolster their technical knowledge and kick-start the division.

These companies include Industrial Perception, who specialise in creating robots resembling giant angle-poise lamps to sort and move packages, and Meka, who create “human-safe, human-soft” android arms and torsos.

Robots that carry, sort and see: meet the seven types of robot that Google has purchased

Google is still keeping details about the project close to their chest, but Rubin compares the possibilities with the company’s self-driving car project, which seems to be rapidly moving towards feasibility despite being dismissed as science fiction when it launched in 2009.

Rubin, the man who be leading the project, previously worked for both Apple and Carl Zeiss – a German manufacturing company - and co-founded Android Inc, the company responsible for the eponymous operating system and named in honour of Rubin’s love of robotics.

Android Inc was bought by Google in 2005 and Rubin was placed in charge, overseeing the mobile OS’s startling rise to power. Android is now use by roughly 80 per cent of smartphones globally, with 1.5 million devices activated daily.

Rubin told the New York Times that he has “a history of making my hobbies into a career. This is the world’s greatest job. Being an engineer and a tinkerer, you start thinking about what you would want to build for yourself.”

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