As it turns out, animal-themed robots appear to be the droids that Google was looking for.
Google recently purchased robotics research and development company Boston Dynamics – a transaction that was officially confirmed by the search engine giant on December 14.
Founded in 1992 by Dr Marc Raibert, Boston Dynamics is best known for working in conjunction with the US military to develop agile, fast-moving robots, both for mobile research and on the battlefield.
Among the company’s most notable creations are Atlas, a humanoid machine capable of operating on rocky terrain; Big Dog, a robotic quadruped that can lift and throw heavy objects; and Cheetah, a robot that can run faster than the world’s fastest man, athlete Usain Bolt.
Boston Dynamics is currently honoring a $10.8 million contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The company is supplying DARPA with Atlas units for the agency’s Robotics Challenge, which aims to develop robots suited for operating in calamity-stricken areas and nuclear disaster zones.
“Competitions like the DARPA Robotics Challenge stretch participants to try to solve problems that matter and we hope to learn from the teams’ insights around disaster relief,” according to Google’s Robotics Division head Andy Rubin in an official statement. Rubin is also the man behind Google’s Android software, a major player in the field of smartphones.
Google’s feeling lucky
Google’s newest purchase may not be so surprising, though.
The New York Times reports that Boston Dynamics is the eighth in a series of robotics companies that Google brought into its fold during the last six months of 2013. Google had previously purchased US and Japanese companies that focus on a wide range of robotics research, including Schaft.inc (humanoid robots), Redwood Robotics (advanced robotic arms), and Industrial Perception (computer vision).
Evidence seems to point to Google working on a line of automated “servants” to fulfill manufacturing and delivery duties in warehouses, or possibly even caretaker duties for the elderly. Most of it is just speculation at this point, though, as the Internet mogul remains tight-lipped about the true nature of its plans.
According to Rubin, this new top-secret robotics project is a “moonshot,” and would most likely be in its initial development stages for a few years.
Additionally, Dr Raibert, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor who is recognized as the “father of walking robots” in the United States, revealed that he is excited by Google’s “ability to think very, very big, with the resources to make it happen.”
No Google-sponsored 'killer robots'
However, although Google confirmed that Boston Dynamics would still honor existing military contracts, the search giant assured that it has no plans to become a military contractor.
Dr Raibert had also previously stated that despite working closely with the military on their recent robotics projects, Boston Dynamics prefers to make advancements in robotics technology as a whole, rather than become a full-time robot builder for the military.
Google declined to reveal exactly how much money was involved in the deal, adding that it does not plan to release financial information about any similar transactions with other companies as well.