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12/17/2013
09:06 AM
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6 Robots To Inspire Google

Google just bought military-grade robotics company Boston Dynamics. Check out their robots and others competing in the next DARPA challenge.
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Image: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
Image: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Google has bought another robotics company: Boston Dynamics, which specializes in robots for military applications. Although Google's focus isn't on the military, its acquisition of Boston Dynamics could further advance robots already in development. These include BigDog, a quadruped robot for rough terrain; Petman, an anthropomorphic robot that tests equipment; and Cheetah, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded project involving the fastest legged robot in the world.

Google hasn't provided specifics about the acquisition or the role Boston Dynamics will play in the company's future robotics projects. But it seems to have big things planned. "The future is looking awesome," Google's Andy Rubin said in a Dec. 13 tweet. Rubin is the executive who led the development of Android at Google and is now heading the company's robotics effort, which Google calls a "moonshot."

Other robotics companies Google bought in the past year include Industrial Perception, Bot & Dolly, Autofuss, Meka, Redwood Robotics, Schaft, and Holomni. According to Redwood Robotics' and Meka's websites, the companies are busy "building a robot revolution" now that they've been acquired by Google.

What makes Boston Dynamics stand out from the crowd is its work with the U.S. government. Several of its DARPA-funded projects involve robots that are designed to help soldiers in the field, such as the LS3, a horse-like robot that can travel through rough terrain, and accompany marines and soldiers by carrying their load. USASpending.gov shows that the Department of Defense (DOD), which DARPA is a part of, has awarded Boston Dynamics nearly $140 million in contracts since 2000.

But don't expect to see Google supplying robots directly to the military just yet. According to an article in the New York Times, Google said it "would honor existing military contracts," but has no plans to "move toward becoming a military contractor on its own."

Meanwhile, Boston Dynamics continues to partner with DARPA to advance robotics for military use. At the DARPA Virtual Robotics Challenge earlier this year, seven teams won further funding and their own humanoid robot created by Boston Dynamics, called Atlas. Atlas is capable of walking bipedally, which leaves its arms free to lift and carry supplies. It can even climb through challenging terrain using its hands and feet. The robot's sensor head includes stereo cameras and a laser range finder. The seven teams will use their software with the Atlas robot to compete in the next round of the competition, the physical DARPA Robotics Challenge, on Dec. 20 and 21.

Six other robot teams recognized in the virtual DARPA competition also won funding and will compete in the physical challenge. However, they will be using their custom software with original robots they built themselves. Take a peek at these six military robots that will be competing in December -- and whose technology might some day emerge in commercial form if Google decides they have consumer appeal.

Are you taking notes, Google?

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Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/17/2013 | 10:45:02 AM
Where Google Brings Robots
These military-grade robots present a stark contrast to the Google driverless car. What can Google do with these types of technologies in tandem?
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
12/18/2013 | 8:09:57 PM
Re: Where Google Brings Robots
That's soe strange double-speak that Googls is talking. It sounds like Boston Dynamics is making lots of money from government contracts. And Google isn't going to just sever its ties with the government because of this acquistion.

I expect them to continue selling these robots to the government. The money is just too good. 
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
12/17/2013 | 12:03:29 PM
Why do so many robots look like humans?
Humans are an egotistical lot. Why do most of the robots in this collection -- and most robots in general -- look like humans. Here we are making machines in our own image, but the human form seems like an unlikely design. It's a top-heavy form that's intrinsically unsteady on its feet. If you're starting with metal, plastic and other man-made materials rather than flesh and bones, would you use the human body as a design point? Google's robots at least look like they are designed to the task.  
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
12/17/2013 | 4:38:20 PM
Re: Why do so many robots look like humans?
It's not just ego. Given an environment designed for humans, there are advantages to designing robots like people. Stairs and wheels don't always place nicely together.
ElenaMalykhina
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ElenaMalykhina,
User Rank: Author
12/17/2013 | 2:10:27 PM
Why Boston Dynamics?
It seems Google is more interested in Boston Dynamics' animal-like robots that exhibit mobility, agility, dexterity and speed. The human-like Atlas robot is impressive, but it's unclear how it could be useful to Google. The company has surprised in the past though, and it'll be interesting to see what it has planned with all these acquisitions of robotics companies.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
12/17/2013 | 7:18:04 PM
Re: Why Boston Dynamics?
Just guessing, but the autonomous nature of Boston Dynamics's robots actually align with what Google has been doing with its self-driving car: testing how quickly and correctly automated vehicles (and now maybe robots) can adapt to changing surroundings.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
12/17/2013 | 7:56:21 PM
Re: Why Boston Dynamics?
The driverless car comparison seems right, Wyatt. And if you want to map the entire earth, you need to leave the road. Perhaps these can do some of that work by foot. 
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2014 | 4:50:23 PM
Now Nest
Adding intrigue to Google's purchase of Boston Dynamics's robots is news that Google is payting $3.2 billion to acquire Nest Labs.  Here's more in case you missed it: http://add.vc/huS
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