First it was drones, now it’s robots. Amazon made headlines around the world this week when CEO Jeff Bezos shared his vision for Prime Air, an octocoper service that uses drones to deliver goods of up to about 5 pounds in roughly 30 minutes.
But Google isn’t content to allow Amazon to steal all the next-generation delivery headlines this week. Google is proposing life-size humanoid robots to deliver packages to your doorstep, according to the New York Times.
The difference between the two visions: Amazon’s Prime Air seems a more likely reality once Federal Aviation Administration rules are settled. Google executives are admitting that their robotic vision is a “moonshot,” the Times reports.
A 10-Year Vision
Andy Rubin, the mastermind behind the Android project, is heading up the robotics effort. This is his first big move since he gave Android over to Sundar Pichai in early 2013. Apparently, robotics has been on his mind for more than a decade.
“Like any moonshot, you have to think of time as a factor,” Rubin told the Times. “We need enough runway and a 10-year vision.”
It’s unclear just exactly how much Google is investing in this so-called moonshot, but the company has been snapping up robotics companies. The list includes Industrial Perception, which focuses on computer vision to allow robots to load up and unload trucks. Bot & Dollar is another Google buy. Its robotic arms helped film the movie Gravity. Schaft, Meka, Redwood Robotics, Autofuss and Holomni are also now owned by Google and could support Rubin’s vision.
“I am excited about Andy Rubin's next project. His last big bet, Android, started off as a crazy idea that ended up putting a supercomputer in hundreds of millions of pockets,” said Larry Page, CEO of Google in a Google+ post. “It is still very early days for this, but I can't wait to see the progress.”
A Full-Grown Roomba?
Some of Page’s followers offered a skeptical response. Jarkko Suominen wrote, “Google invests to Andy Rubin but to what Andy Rubin. What is Andy's vision? Is the quality of a robot more important than usefulness and deliberateness of robot in point of his view. Where are his markets?”
But another follower, Johnathan Chung, is excited to see the development: “We've come a long way since the first flagship machine readable punched cards were invented in 1928 . . . incidentally the same year sliced bread was invented too. Surely this qualifies Google as one of the best things since then.”
We asked Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, to get his take on Google’s latest project. He told us it sounds like an extension of the company’s self-driving technology.
“It’s very much a Jetsons-like maybe Asimovian vision where we would have these machines that could really act on our behalf and act on the complexities of our physical world,” Rubin said. “So one can sort of see something like today’s Roomba floor cleaning robot as the first beings coming out of the swamps to walk on land. What Google describes would be a fully evolved version of that.”