Andy Rubin left the helm of the Android team back in March, replaced by then-Chrome VP Sundar Pichai, and it’s been a bit of a mystery what he’s been up to since. Now, the New York Times reveals that he’s moved to a much more experimental department at the Internet giant, spearheading the company’s efforts to revolutionize the use of robots in real-world applications.
The timing of the reveal seems too neat to be coincidental, as Amazon stole headlines and owned the post-holiday news cycle earlier this week with the announcement that it has been working on automated drone delivery for packages. Rubin’s work at Google seems to have a similar thrust; the robotics advances his group at Google is working on will focus on the underserved manufacturing and logistics markets, Rubin told the NYT.
It’s likely that some of the innovation Google is looking at is in shoring up the same kinds of deficiencies that UPS may be exploring, like the transport method for shuttling goods from central depots to local sort and delivery facilities. But Google at the direction of Rubin has been quietly acquiring a number of robotics firms in the U.S. and Japan including Industrial Perception (computer vision); Schaft, Meka and Redwood Robotics (humanoid bot and bot limb builders); Bot & Dolly (robot camera makers involved in the film Gravity); Autofuss (advertising and design); and Holomni (design firm specializing in robot wheels). There’s an awful lot of humanoid in that mix, which means Google is doing something more than improving on existing industrial robotics, which mostly bear no resemblance to their creators.
Google could make parts of the manufacturing process that involve simply carting goods from one place to another much more efficient with robotics, or it could attempt to streamline the process of getting a package from a supplier in Asia to a homemaker in Spokane.
Back when Rubin left his post at the head of Android, he sent a note to Android partners that said he’s an “entrepreneur at heart,” and was starting a “new chapter” within Google. With this robotics project, he told the New York Times that it’s something he’s been considering for a decade, but it only recently has become commercially viable to build automated systems on the scale he envisioned.
As with Google’s driverless cars, this is a big project that likely won’t bear fruit immediately, but it’s something the company is making serious investment in, as evidenced by the many acquisitions it has already made to further its efforts. Of course, any work in robots also has the advantage of capturing the public’s imagination and attention, which is something Amazon proved without a doubt thanks to its big delivery drones reveal. Google may not be building you a housebot tomorrow, but whatever does come out of Rubin’s Remarkable Robot Factory will undoubtedly be worth having a front row seat for.