Google shows every sign of wanting to carry on diversifying. In its latest venture, the company has announced that it is investing in the field of robotics. The project is still very low-key, but threatens to overshadow the efforts of other players that have already started to move into this futuristic market.
Google’s future is increasingly being shaped outside the framework of the Internet. Following Google Glass and Google Car, the Mountain View giant seems to have plans to carve out a place for itself in the robotics market and perhaps to compete with Amazon in the logistics field. Over the last six months, Google has discreetly acquired seven robotics and artificial intelligence startups in the United States and Japan – Schaft, Industrial Perception, Meka, Redwood Robotics, Bot & Dolly, Autofuss, and Holonomi – with the aim of creating a new generation of robots. Together, these companies are capable of creating a sophisticated mobile robot. The engineer heading the effort is Andy Rubin, the man who built Google’s Android software into the world’s dominant force in smartphones.
New generation of robots for the logistics space
The details of the Google robotics project are being kept under wraps but, judging by remarks made by Andy Rubin, it seems to be focusing on manufacturing, logistics and online commerce, and more on the Big Data aspects than the purely technology side. Google’s efforts in robotics are apparently not intended to create consumer products, but to help manufacturing companies enhance their productivity by reducing the need for a human workforce in jobs that are suitable for automation but which today still have not been invaded by robotics technology. According to a number of specialists, a realistic case would see robots being used to automate portions of an existing supply chain that stretches from factory floor to the companies that ship and deliver goods to a consumer’s doorstep. Google has recently started experimenting with package delivery in urban areas with its Google Shopping service, and it might well try to automate portions of that system. The shopping service, available in a few locations including San Francisco, is already making home deliveries on behalf of companies such as Walgreens and American Eagle Outfitters.
Robotics project likely to scale up rapidly?
Andy Rubin compares the current move into the robotics space with the efforts that have been put into Google’s (driverless) Car. Back with robotics, he acknowledges that significant advances in the fields of software and sensors will be necessary, but argues that there are no longer any difficulties to surmount regarding basic questions such as robot mobility. Moreover, the robotics project is different from other projects coming out of the Google X Lab – Google’s lab dedicated to disruptive innovations such as Google Glass and Google Car – because the company wants to see robots on the market as quickly as possible. He has stated that he wants to continue acquiring startups in this sector, but has not provided any further details. Despite his statements, we have no real idea as yet of the size of the project nor the timeframe within which it is intended become operational. Regarding the fact that the main areas of development are Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, we cancertainly expect Google to grow fast on the robotics market. By investing massively in robotics designed in particular for logistics field, Google could well also be a threat to Amazon’s Amazon Prime Air project, which envisages using drones to transport goods to its customers by air.