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Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up For Sale In Robotics Retreat (bloomberg.com) 95

An anonymous reader writes from an article on Bloomberg: Executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc., absorbed with making sure all the various companies under its corporate umbrella have plans to generate real revenue, concluded that Boston Dynamics isn't likely to produce a marketable product in the next few years and have put the unit up for sale, according to two people familiar with the company's plans. Possible acquirers include the Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com Inc., which makes robots for its fulfillment centers, according to one person. Google acquired Boston Dynamics in late 2013 as part of a spree of acquisitions in the field of robotics. Over the following year, the robot initiative, dubbed Replicant, was plagued by leadership changes, failures to collaborate between companies and an unsuccessful effort to recruit a new leader. Jonathan Rosenberg, an adviser to Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page and former Google senior vice president, said, "we as a startup of our size cannot spend 30-plus percent of our resources on things that take ten years," and that "there's some time frame that we need to be generating an amount of revenue that covers expenses and (that) needs to be a few years." In December, Google announced that Replicant had been folded into Google's advanced research group, Google X. In a private all-hands meeting around that time, Astro Teller, the head of Google X, told Replicant employees that if robotics aren't the practical solution to problems that Google was trying to solve, they would be reassigned to work on other things, according to a person who was at that meeting. Boston Dynamics, though, was never folded into Google X and was instead put up for sale.
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Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up For Sale In Robotics Retreat

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  • by Noah Haders ( 3621429 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @02:47PM (#51717527)

    I always feel bad when the people try to kick over the dog robots. I understand the point they're trying to make, but they seem to be doing it with too much glee.

    • I know. I feel the same way. Watching them push the robots around makes me want to yell at them to stop.

      • Re:dogs (Score:4, Insightful)

        by spacepimp ( 664856 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:43PM (#51717939) Homepage

        Do you feel bad for shovels when people use them to dig? Your mind is pattern matching humanistic traits and applying them to a smarter shovel in a sense. I too feel bad. Thats just a neo cortex lingering issue.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Not necessarily, applying physical violence to any productive object will always evoke a sense of waste at the very least. Using a shovel to dig isn't the same thing as abusing a shovel. If I saw someone kicking their shovel over, I'd think twice about approaching that person soon after for pleasant conversation. It is the action being judged, not the recipient of the action (which is only ever imaginary anyway)

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Pushing a robot over isn't physical violence. It's training. You are still misjudging the action based upon a mistaken perception.

            It's no more violent that running a bunch of data through a neural network.

    • by kav2k ( 1545689 )

      I guess that must be the reason.

      Google is trying to put some distance between robot-kicking and themselves in the wake of AI emergence happening in their datacenters.

    • Funny you should mention that. Watching YouTube bids of their "Big Dog" really gave me the creeps; I'd be more inclined to try to nail one with L.A.W. rocket than simply push it over...
    • Re:dogs (Score:4, Interesting)

      by wardrich86 ( 4092007 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:42PM (#51717931)
      Every push builds their calibration and balance. They're literally training it to become invincible. They should be pushing it with terror in their eyes knowing that one day they will be bowing to the robot overlords that they created.
    • I don't. I look at those things and my brain screams. Alien murderbot! Kill it now, while you still can!

    • 30 years? I guess they couldn't wait for the rise of the robot dog machines to bite us back.

    • The reason for this selling decision is probably that Google brain felt the same way.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • I understand how you would have that emotional response, but try and think about it this way: perhaps the glee doesn't come from being aggressive to the robot, perhaps it comes from discovering and experiencing first-hand how the robot can, by-design, completely withstand such a kick.
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @02:49PM (#51717547) Journal
    This is their opportunity to get into the game and produce manufacturing equipment. In addition, BD is ideal for the moon and mars.
    • by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:05PM (#51717661)

      Amazon has the right idea. Thousands of cloud connected drones. Google needs to improve their cloud controlled car, but that's a little bit more difficult. Both companies need to focus more on the IoT aspect of robotics because that's where the money's at.

      Stay away from building the hardware. It's a money pit.

      • Yes. Thousands of cloud connected drones are what Google needs to make money.*


        * This is sarcasm.
        • by WarJolt ( 990309 )

          More IoT robots, more data, more money. Eventually you won't be able to shit without a robot assisting you wiping your ass and telling Google. Privacy is dead.

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          Yes. Thousands of cloud connected drones are what Google needs to make money.*

            * This is sarcasm.

          Well, if you add a screen and speaker, they can be used to show ads to people - flitting from person to person showing an ad for 30 seconds while they hover right in front of them, staying in the direct line of sight of said person.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        I really like robots. I really am openly biased about Boston Dynamics for stupid personal reasons. I really like the robots that I've seen that they've created.

        Alas, there's no way that I could do a damned thing to help this company along. It may be years out before they'd be profitable. I almost (I've not yet thought it through) hope they're picked up by one of the heavies like Boeing. I could even see them tucked into Oshkosh somewhere. I'd love to see DARPA just keep them researching but, if I recall cor

  • Startup? LOL (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by waspleg ( 316038 )

    sometext
    somemoretext
    becasue

    • by ADRA ( 37398 )

      Google is many things, many good things, but they're NOT a startup... I heard the same thing.

      • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

        They're only 17 years old; not even adult yet.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          In internet years (not entirely unlike dog years including the accelerated years at the start) that's a veritable ancient one - past even grandfather stage and well into empire range. There are not a whole lot of internet companies that have lasted as long as Google has. I can only think of one search company that exists now as it did when Google came out. That company is DMOZ and, aside from SEO companies, I'm not sure who even uses it anymore. I don't think I've been to DMOS in the past 10 years.

          Lemme loo

          • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

            43... don't you see how close DMOZ is to being the answer to life the universe and everything?

            • by KGIII ( 973947 )

              If you've noticed my signature and seen a number of my comments when people ask me nonsensical questions that can be answered with a number then you'd be silly to think I didn't notice. ;-) In fact, I'd almost commented about it but I couldn't think of any way to make it fitting.

              Oh! Hah... Thankfully preview saves the day. I've found a fit.

              "And, the number 43 is significant as well. It shows that DMOZ also missed the answer. Close, but no cigar."

              That's the best I can do to fit it in there. DMOZ... Man, I re

      • That was pretty confusing, so I went and read through the article. It sounds like Rosenberg was specifically referring to Replicant / Boston Dynamics when he said that. Although, even then, it comes across as a bit of Google/Alphabet double-speak...

        - Presto, you're a startup!
        - What, you're not producing short-term revenue for Google/Alphabet?
        - Presto, we're selling you off!

  • by dyslexicbunny ( 940925 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:00PM (#51717607)

    The impression I had was that Big Dog was their big product. Google bought them and killed the program cause they don't do defense work. I thought the Army saying Big Dog didn't meet noise requirements was something that allowed everyone to save face.

    Maybe Google shouldn't have bought a robotics company that was primarily defense funded...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The impression I had was that Big Dog was their big product. Google bought them and killed the program cause they don't do defense work. I thought the Army saying Big Dog didn't meet noise requirements was something that allowed everyone to save face.

      Maybe Google shouldn't have bought a robotics company that was primarily defense funded...

      It really does seem that humanoid robotics is going to be primarily defense funded and Boston Dynamics was going to have to be flexible about weaponizing their robots. Counter-insurgency ops... knocking down (opening doors) and walking inside seems the obvious use case for humanoid robotics since those environments are made for humans and aerial drones won't do as well if there are doors. Where booby traps or going around a corner and getting shot at point blank range are big risks and you want the robo

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The impression I had was that Big Dog was their big product. Google bought them and killed the program cause they don't do defense work. I thought the Army saying Big Dog didn't meet noise requirements was something that allowed everyone to save face.

      Maybe Google shouldn't have bought a robotics company that was primarily defense funded...

      Or maybe they *did* buy a defense company and closed it down because it fit the politics of their founders...
      If google is good at anything, it's buying startup companies and shutting them down...

    • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:53PM (#51718015) Homepage

      The impression I had was that Big Dog was their big product. Google bought them and killed the program cause they don't do defense work. I thought the Army saying Big Dog didn't meet noise requirements was something that allowed everyone to save face.

      Maybe Google shouldn't have bought a robotics company that was primarily defense funded...

      I read somewhere that soldiers hated Big Dog because of the noise and limited use cases, and that soldiers preferred wheeled vehicles that they could ride in. You could probably ride on Big Dog and similar legged robots, but it wouldn't be very comfortable.

      Just something I read on the internet but it makes sense. Getting rid of the group seems a bit odd though. Maybe Google is thinking that when humanoid robots are finally "ready" as a consumer product, they can just buy a company and get back in the game. Or maybe they feel that Boston Dynamics costs too much and can't compete in the free market. Their robots did lose the Darpa Robot Challenge to research universities, after all.

      • by robi5 ( 1261542 )

        > You could probably ride on Big Dog and similar legged robots, but it wouldn't be very comfortable.

        It would beat the riding experience compared to that of a wheeled vehicle on the type of surfaces it was designed for. And people riding Big Dogs would make cuter videos than people kicking them.

      • Big Dog probably could have been repurposed if Google really didn't want them to do military stuff.

        I could imagine that it could be quite useful in disaster recovery to move supplies - either in places where roads are still littered with debris or regions that don't have as much road infrastructure. Any sort of surveying in rough terrain that requires hauling samples back. Maybe on construction sites to haul stuff around vs wheelbarrows?

        I was unaware they lost a DARPA Robot Challenge though to research univ

  • The first thing I thought when I read that was "I didn't know Google owned a sports team" - thought it was a WNBA team or something.

  • "we as a startup of our size cannot spend 30-plus percent of our resources on things that take ten years," and that "there's some time frame that we need to be generating an amount of revenue that covers expenses and (that) needs to be a few years."

    This is what the onset of an AI Winter looks like.

  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:09PM (#51717697) Homepage Journal
    This is what happens when a company has too much money and has delusions of grandeur. All the execs start buying stuff without having a clue what they are going to do with it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:12PM (#51717713)

    Google bought Motorola, took the patents that they wanted, and sold the rest to Lenovo a few years later.

    It's probably the same deal with Boston Dynamics.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They bought Motorola without a f****** clue what to do with it and eventually sold it. It's definitely the same deal here

    • I live in South Florida and know a few ex-Motorola employees. They don't have a very nice opinion of Google...
  • by RavenLrD20k ( 311488 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:12PM (#51717721) Journal
    And here I was hoping for them to really take off under Google's tutelage to the point where they could be renamed Massive Dynamic.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    When I say the latest Boston Dynamics Atlas video, I joked that the robot which picked up boxed would eventually replace warehouse workers.
    Now, as soon as Google decides to put Boston Dynamics on the selling block, Amazon is already interested.

    So now Amazon will have drone delivery robots, android factory workers, and i can imagine there could be deliveries via self-driving cars.

  • by flink ( 18449 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:50PM (#51717987)

    If your timeline for generating revenue is "a few years", then you should not be in the business of doing advanced research. You're just going to be disappointed.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That quote made no sense. Self-driving cars are a 10-year-out type of effort. For that matter in most communities where they are installing Google Fiber, it is a 10 year effort to actually get more than a few neighborhoods connected.

      • The quote made PERFECT sense. The stated reason for the sale was that a commercial product was not likely to be created in the next few years and hence they need to divest themselves of the asset under the new model. Given your timelines this could mean their self driving cars are also inline for the chopping block. advanced research is always a long term investment and something you need to do a lot of if that is your thing as many/most of this research doesn't end in profit. A Corporate outlook that requi
    • Boston Dynamics has been founded in 1992.
      If your definition of "a few years" is a quarter of a century, well, err, can I join your vampire coven please?

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @04:12PM (#51718125) Homepage Journal

    That's a field where you're spending a ton of dough, and you won't have a product for 10 years. At least, that's how long it's going to take for the adoption and legalization of autonomous vehicles -- hey google -- when a person with no driver's license can step into a taxi that has no driver, let me know.

    • Forget the taxi. I want to ride a steam punk robo-horse to work. How more hipster could that be?
    • I was thinking about when I read a recent story about BMW getting into driverless car research.
      I bet a lot of existing car companies, rather than start their research programs behind, having to each collect their own data, would jump at the opportunity to license the sensors, software, road data from Google while having them share the blame when something bad happens.
      And Google wouldn't have to spend any money on getting into manufacturing.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Friends don't let friends get bought by Google. No matter how much they offer you.

    They will take your product, shit on it, market it in ways that will make people hate you, then kill / sell your product like a used condom.

    EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

    I cannot think of any company Google have acquired that they haven't shit on.
    They are literally worse than Microsoft these days.

  • by e**(i pi)-1 ( 462311 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:38PM (#51718693) Homepage Journal
    The article hints at other reasons. The latest youtube boston dynamics video showing the robot doing human work, was not only impressive, it was frightening. Not that we don't know that it is going to happen (not only in transportation, or manufacturing but also in service, consulting, transportation, delivery, military, health care or teaching), it was scary to see a bot doing things so well, to walk around, do errands. For a company, to be associated or identified with a job eliminator, this is a PR disaster in the long term. Its more subtle in AI or other domains of automation, where we don't see it. And then the article mentions also the lack of short term profitable products and leadership problems. But its interesting to see how non-technical factors start to matter more and more. But as mentioned before, the most important asset which google probably got from the company is the know-how, the top notch engineering, the human potential which can do be used also in non-robotic things. But whoever buys the company, the technology will continue change the future. Amazon is interested. Imagine all the packing and delivery work done by such droids. Maybe they should dress them as minions to make it more acceptable ...
    • +1, good insight.

      But I think you are wrong. The real reason is that Google is now run by MBAs instead of engineers or visionaries, and they really did just calculate the Net Present Value of the research.

      Google has so much cash it is obvious that it should throw a couple of billion at BD just to keep a hand in the field. In twenty years robots are going to be huge. Probably not the humanoid ones, but just intelligent machines doing many ordinary jobs. It takes time to get into that field. And lots of n

  • But ... but ... robots! Google! I for one welcoming our new overlords! How can this be?

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