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Google to unroll map towards mainstream robotics

Posted: 06 Dec 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Google  robotics  Android  open source 

Andy Rubin, the engineer who brought us the OS he called Android, is spearheading the initiative to bring the open source software to commercial robotics. According to his interview with New York Times, Google will try to map a path to mainstream robotics. However, questions remain as to whether the company has what it takes to turn this broad field into any mainstream commercial opportunities.

Today Android increasingly dominates in smartphones and tablets, but I think the job in robotics is different and tougher. Robotics has long been fascinating potential that's been tough to realize.

MIT robotics researchers had the first big breakthrough with its Roomba automated vacuum cleaner, a rare consumer spinoff from its military robots. More recently, Willow Garage created a humanoid robotics platform and a robotics open-source software group to give interested innovators some traction.

DARPA recently launched a challenge to develop the best search-and-rescue humanoid robot. That program has spawned some exciting work. Even Wall Street sees the potential; a robotics stock index tracks 77 companies in the area.

Rubin has mass market savvy from his work on Android, as well as Google's financial backing, which the NYT article said has enabled him to buy seven robotics companies including: Schaft, the Japanese maker of a humanoid robot; Industrial Perception, a computer vision and robotic arm startup; Meka and Redwood Robotics, makers of humanoid robots and robot arms; Bot & Dolly, whose robotic cameras were used in the movie Gravity; Autofuss, an advertising and design firm; and Holomni, a maker of specialized wheels.

There's no doubt Rubin's effort will attract a flood of resumes from engineers who share his passion for robotics. I'd love to hear from some of you about what you see as the untapped commercial opportunities and challenges of getting them on mechanical legs.

- Rick Merritt
  EE Times

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