Boston Dynamics is expected to change owners soon. The maker of sturdy biped and four-legged robots is being sold by Google, and the most likely buyer is Japanese carmaker Toyota.
Google Inc.’s parent company Alphabet is said to be in advanced talks with Toyota to sell Boston Dynamics. A price for the deal has not yet been disclosed but the “ink is nearly dry,” reported Tech Insider, citing a source familiar with the matter.
Google had begun looking for a buyer to sell off Boston Dynamics for a few months now. The Inquisitr had previously reported that Toyota Research Institute and Google competitor Amazon.com were two of the finalists in the sale. Interestingly, Toyota already has a special robotics division within the company’s research division. Moreover, the company recently bought Cambridge-based startup Jaybridge Robotics. On the other hand, Amazon is deep into the development of robots which are meant to further boost its order fulfillment centers.
Boston Dynamics has traditionally made robots for the military. Their ruggedized creations are not just solidly built, but possess near-human capabilities like balance and biped movement. The company has routinely uploaded videos on YouTube that have garnered millions of views, generating quite a buzz about intelligent robots that can closely mimic human movements and even work like us. Their four-legged creations are quite sturdy and have been developed to lighten the load of a soldier. However, owing to the excessive noise of the diesel engine, the robotic mule hasn’t been deployed yet.
It is perhaps the difference of primary focus of the companies that has persuaded Google to sell Boston Dynamics. The search giant has traditionally focused on consumer-friendly technology, and originally bought the Waltham-based company to develop a consumer-oriented product, but the latter seemed focused on developing advanced robotics suited more for the military and defense, reported Boston Globe. In the past, the company has made several variants of its robots for the military’s DAPRA division.
Just like all of its products, Google wanted Boston Dynamics to develop a simplistic robot that was easy to use. Google may have wanted something on wheels, but Boston Dynamics has always focused on robotic legs. The idea of abandoning the core identity of the company may have created tensions between the separate entities.
Incidentally, the buyout is being termed as a “friendly” one, probably because a lot of Google robotics engineers already work at Toyota, reports Inverse. In fact, Google’s robotics division founder James Kuffner; Joseph Bondaryk, the operation manager for Boston Dynamics under Google; Philipp Michel, who has worked as a senior robotic engineer for Google’s robotics division, and many others have recently started working for Toyota Research Institute.
Boston Dynamics was one of the nine acquisitions of Google that made up the company’s robotics division, internally called Replicant. The division was created by Andy Rubin, the co-founder of Android, along with Kuffner. However, after Rubin’s exit, there was no real Google leadership spearheading Boston Dynamics. Many speculate it was the internal difference of intentions that continued to drive Boston Dynamics away from Google, and to the point the latter started considering selling the company.
Industry insiders speculate the push to sell Boston Dynamics truly began when the company released a video of their humanoid robot, Atlas, the Next Generation. The video showed a humanoid robot with remarkable balancing ability. The robot seemed quite capable and relatively sure-footed in an outdoor environment. The company also showed the robot doing the work a warehouse worker normally does.
It may seem odd that Toyota is interested in procuring Boston Dynamics, let alone nurturing an entire research unit focused on robotics. However, the company has allocated considerable resources to develop robots that assist the elderly in a country that is rapidly running short of young generation. Buying Boston Dynamics will essentially help Toyota consolidate the original team that shaped the company before and during Google’s ownership.
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