Over the last six months Google has secretly acquired seven robotics startups. They are all being merged into a secret project managed by Andy Rubin the former chief of Android, and the project is being viewed similarly to other Google moonshot projects like Google Glass and Project Loon. Judging by statements from Larry Page their ambitions are for robots to free humans from laborious and repetitive tasks so we can focus on being creative or take our leisure.
Today’s production line robots are awesome for repeating single tasks over and over, but whilst recent improvements in mobility and moving hands and arms have improved multi-tasking abilities Google is working on the improvements in sensors and software that are required to make industrial robots sufficiently flexible and autonomous to take over many of the tasks currently carried out by humans. Apparently they are looking on this as a ten year project, although the companies they’ve just acquired had robots capable of autonomously unloading boxes from lorries and building curvilinear walls.
It sounds to me like Google is building technologies that other companies can use in their production processes. It’s great to see their investment in this area and I’m looking forward to seeing startups that leverage robots to cost effectively build advanced products with short production runs. I expect these products to be great because they are manufactured with higher levels of precision and customisation than is currently possible. As I’ve said before, robots will revolutionise manufacturing and hence retail.