Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. isn’t happy with Boston Dynamics, its robotics subsidiary. According to a report from Bloomberg, Alphabet executives think that Boston Dynamics is unlikely to generate substantial revenue in the next few years and is hard to work with. Toyota or Amazon could be interested in acquiring Boston Dynamics for their manufacturing or warehouse operations.
But even more interesting, internal messages at Google shows that the company itself is a bit scared by Boston Dynamics. We’ve all watched Boston Dynamics’ video last month with mixed feelings — there was a bit of excitement, sure, but also a lot of terror. These humanoid robots can fall and stand up again like in Terminator:
In December 2013, Google acquired Boston Dynamics and a few other robotics startups. The idea was to build a robotics engineering team inside Google and make them work with Boston Dynamics on robotics projects. Since then, not much happened. With a project called Replicant, Google was supposed to ship affordable robots as quickly as possible. But leadership changes as well as clashes between robotics engineers working for Google and Boston Dynamics engineers eventually led to an inability to deliver.
Google is a big company with tens of thousands of workers and these issues became apparent when meeting notes and private emails were published on an internal forum. All Google employees could see this exchange, and that’s how Bloomberg’s Brad Stone and Jack Clark got tipped this story. Someone working for Google (but probably not working on Replicant or for Boston Dynamics) sent these messages to Bloomberg.
“There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” Google director of communications for Google X Courtney Hohne wrote in a private email that was later copied on this not-so-private Google forum and obtained by Bloomberg. “We don’t want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google,” she later wrote. “We’re not going to comment on this video because there’s really not a lot we can add, and we don’t want to answer most of the Qs it triggers.”
Google director of robotics Aaron Edsinger said that working with Boston Dynamics was “a bit of a brick wall.” The Replicant project was reportedly shut down in December, with Google robotics engineers now working on other Google X projects. As for Boston Dynamics engineers, they’re now waiting for a new overlord.