Google just acquired Boston Dynamics. It’s the eighth robotics company the California tech titan has purchased in six months and, by far, the most significant. For two decades, Boston Dynamics has produced some of the world’s most advanced robots.
Neil Jacobstein, co-chair of the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Track at Singularity University, told Singularity Hub, “This is a watershed event. A very big deal. Google is buying up high potential robotics companies. Boston Dynamics is the pick of the litter.”
Even if you don’t follow technology or robots closely, you may have watched one of their viral videos with some combination of awe, fear, and the realization that robots are nowhere near as clunky as you thought they were.
The firm’s humanoid Atlas and Petman robots can balance on two legs, walk, and do calisthenics. Video of an uncannily human Petman in fatigues—the robot was built to test chemical warfare gear—drew over three million views earlier this year.
Beyond the bipedal, the company’s Cheetah robot runs faster than Usain Bolt; their WildCat robot recently took Cheetah’s tricks beyond the treadmill; their robot SandFlea leaps onto tall buildings; and LS3 autonomously follows soldiers across rough terrain, carrying gear and supplies on its back. (Check out the full roster here.)Wow, Petman is creepier than Asimo. More Boston Dynamics robot videos here and here and here
The Boston Dynamics bots are rugged and multi-functional. And while many robotics firms are doing inspiring work, none have produced a complete package that so closely resembles the popular image of what a robot should be.
Google, meanwhile, has billions at its beck and call. They make clever algorithms with designs on artificial intelligence, own the most sophisticated self-driving car on the road, and write paychecks to AI luminaries like Geoffrey Hinton and Ray Kurzweil.
It’s simple addition to see why the deal is making headlines.
Some folks look on some of Boston Dynamics’ creations with trepidation because they have largely been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). But Boston Dynamics founder, Marc Raibert, has said he doesn’t consider his firm to be part of the military industrial complex. They’re just trying to take robotics to the next level.