Google Dives Headfirst Into Robotics with Boston Dynamics Buy

Google has confirmed it's buying Boston Dynamics--one of the most well-known robotics companies in the world--but isn't saying much about why.

By Sharon Gaudin
Sun, December 15, 2013

Computerworld — When it wants something, Google doesnt just stick its toe in the water. No, it simply dives in head first. Less than two weeks after reports circulated that Google has been buying up robotics companies for the past six months as part of an effort to develop its own robotics technology, the company said it's buying Boston Dynamics, one of the most well-known robotics companies in the world.

Boston Dynamics confirmed to the IDG News Service this weekend that it is acquiring the company behind the four-legged rough-terrain traversing BigDog robot, as well as Atlas, a six-foot-tall, 330-pound robot designed to function much like a human.

Atlas is the focus of a DARPA-sponsored robotics challenge later this week that will have 17 teams from the likes of Carnegie Mellon University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory vying to create the best software to enable the robot to turn valves, use human tools, climb a ladder and even drive a car.

And Boston Dynamics was at a robotics demonstration for the U.S. Army at Fort Benning in Georgia in October, showing off its BigDog robot. While the company declined to talk about its work there, officials did say they were under contract with DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Boston Dynamics showed off its BigDog robot, shown crouched down here, during a robotics demonstration at Fort Benning this fall. (Image: Sharon Gaudin)

Now, Boston Dynamics, which works with industry as well as the U.S. military, will be part of Google. That's a bit of an odd pairing, according to Ezra Gottheil, an analyst for Technology Business Research.

"I can usually figure some connection between Google's main business and their wilder acquisitions and projects, but this one is hard to figure," Gottheil told Computerworld. "The only thing I can figure is that they like to buy very smart people and very smart technologies. Certainly, there's a potential integration with the automobile stuff, but I still don't have a clue."

For several years now, Google has been working to develop autonomous cars, logging thousands of miles on the road, getting the first license for a driverless car and even approaching major auto makers in Detroit as potential partners in their effort.

For the last six months, Google has been buying robotics companies in an effort to develop technology that can be used in its manufacturing operation, which largely focuses on electronics assembly. Boston Dynamics will be the eighth robotics company acquired.

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