Go-go-Google droids – Andy Rubin to lead tech giant’s robotics division

4 Dec 2013

Google’s former head of Android Andy Rubin is to head up a new robotics division at the internet search giant. Having already made several acquisitions in this area and with an eye on the future, could droids be the reason Google decided to dominate the smartphone world?

Under Rubin’s leadership, Android-based smartphones now account for 80pc of smartphones in the world today. Google has never held back in its ambition to one day see everyone in the world have access to an affordable, connected device – starting with the next 1bn people but looking further to a more ambitious 5bn people.

Google is constantly looking forward – next year it will release its wearable computing device Google Glass to the consumer market and the company’s Android and Chrome operating systems are light and versatile enough to power a multitude of devices in what will be known as ‘the internet of things.’

At Mobile World Congress in 2012 Google chairman Eric Schmidt not only talked about connecting the next 5bn people but also a future of the internet of things, technology that is present but invisible in our lives, like electricity.

“Think about it, the ability to translate, interactive maps, these things all happened faster than scientists predicted. The people who predicted holograms and self-driving cars will happen were absolutely right,” Schmidt said, predicting in the future people will be able to be in two or three places at once by dispatching robots to meetings in their place, for example, and will be able to step into conversations at any point.

Google’s foray into the world of robots will begin with Rubin leading a new division that will focus on manufacturing and logistics robots.

The company has already bought several robotics companies in the past few months, including Meka, Redwood Robotics, Bot & Dolly, Autofuss, Schaft, Industrial Perception and Holomni.

This is a new battle space that rival Amazon already has its eyes on. Earlier this week, the company revealed Amazon Prime Air, where airborne drones would pick up packages weighing a maximum of 5lb at depots and deliver them to customers’ homes or businesses within 30 minutes. The new business is expected to mainstream within Amazon in the next four to five years.

Speaking in The New York Times, Rubin described Google’s new robotics effort as a “moon shot.” He added: “Like any moonshot, you have to think of time as a factor. We need enough runway and a 10-year vision.”

Several years ago, Google talked about entering the smartphone world like it was something of a moon shot. Let’s see what happens.

Human brain image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years