On February 23, Boston Dynamics posted a video on YouTube showing off how far the robot technology had come. We were awestruck to see a humanoid robot walking just fine through snow, perfectly maintaining its balance.
Another robot with two arms gently grabbed a box to place it on a shelf – then manages somehow to keep its upright position when an engineer pushed it over with a hockey stick. A third robot easily got back on its feet after it toppled over.
The next few weeks, the video got tens of millions of views, as people were marveling at Google and its Boston Dynamics division for pushing the limits of robot technology.
But things weren’t as smooth behind the scenes. Google’s corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., decided that Boston Dynamics wasn’t likely to produce anything marketable in the next years.
Seeing that the focus of Google’s revamping was making sure that all the companies under its brand would start generating real revenue, Alphabet decided that this robot tech company had to go.
Since it went on sale, Boston Dynamics has already been contacted by possible acquirers, such as the Toyota Research Institute, a branch of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com Inc.
Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment while Google and Toyota declined to comment on the possible changes.
Things looked promising in 2013 when Google purchased Boston Dynamics during an acquisition spree in robotics. Andy Rubin, former chief of the Android division, had been leading the negotiations which ended up bringing roughly 300 robotics engineers to Google.
But after Rubin left the company in October 2014, the robot initiative took a hard hit. The next year was plagued by frequent leadership changes caused by an unsuccessful effort to choose a new leader, and failures to collaborate with other companies and engineers.
According to a person familiar with the internal issues, Boston Dynamics had one main problem – a reluctance of working with other robot engineers at the Replicant – Google’s robotic division. At the same time, the company failed to create products that could be released in the near term.
So was that video released by Boston Dynamics a hail-Mary on behalf of the company, hoping to remind Google why it bought them in the first place? Maybe, but apparently, it wasn’t enough for Alphabet’s executives to be impressed.
The same sources also claim that Google is trying to distance itself from the kind of work done at Boston Dynamics because no matter how fascinating their robots are, they seemed equally – if not more – creepy for the mainstream media.
Image Source: WVTM13