December 15, 2013
Google Continues Buying Spree With Boston Dynamics Purchase
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Based in Waltham, Mass., Boston Dynamics has built mobile research robots for the Pentagon and gained a reputation for constructing highly-agile robots with an uncanny sense of balance.
The latest Google acquisition marks the eighth time in the last six months that the search giant has bought a robotics company. If Google executives have a cohesive vision for incorporating robots into their services – they have yet to publicly share it.
Founded in 1992 by a former professor at MIT, Boston Dynamics has not sold robots commercially, but has provided robotics technology for Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The company has supplied DARPA with a humanoid robot for its Darpa Robotics Challenge (DRC), a two-year competition with a $2 million prize. Participants such as NASA and MIT had to design robots that can perform tasks and operate vehicles in a disaster-like setting, like a nuclear power plant meltdown.
“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,” said Google robotics executive Andy Rubin in a statement released by Google, reports John Markoff of the New York Times.
In addition to humanoid robots, Boston Dynamics has designed and built a menagerie of two-legged and four-legged robots capable of climbing walls and trees. In one web video, the company’s BigDog robot climbs hills, traverses snow, maintains its balance on ice and even withstands human kick. In another video, the company’s Cheetah robot can be seen running on a treadmill. The four-legged cat-bot has been clocked at a pace of 29 mph.
Google has recently acquired other robotics companies in the United States and Japan that have demonstrated a range of robot-related technologies. Rubin has called Google’s interest in robotics a “moonshot” effort, but has yet to go into further detail. The executive has said that he does not believe initial product development would extend for years, suggesting that Google could debut something in the next several years.
As with its other recent acquisitions, Google has not said how much it paid to buy Boston Dynamics.
The acquisition comes just after Google announced it was in negotiations with VSP Global, a national eye-care insurer that also makes eyeglass lenses and frames. Observers said the negotiations could foreshadow the Google Glass having prescription lenses and being made available at the local optometrist’s office.
"Down the road I think this technology is going to blow up," Matt Alpert, an optometrist on the board of VSP Global recently told The Wall Street Journal. "As soon as apps are developed that are relevant for your world, it will start to take off."
“In its current form, it'll be more of a niche early adopter product," he added.
An agreement between Google and VSP Global could open up Google Glass to the market of over 110 million Americans and countless other around the world who already use prescription eyewear.