A new breed of androids: Google’s building a robot army with Andy Rubin at the helm

If Amazon is testing drone deliveries, how far behind can Google be? Google has had its fair share of ridiculous ideas that somehow always materialise. Be it Glass, driverless cars or Project Loon, the Mountain View company has managed to make technological utopia real. So when it says it’s testing a whole fleet of humanoid robots for various purposes, our ears perked up.

Yet another crazy project to emerge from X, Google’s top-secret lab where its engineers take moonshots (so called for their supposed implausibility), the robot initiative is led by Andy Rubin, most well-known for popularising another kind of robot, the green Android logo.

Rubin is a co-founder of Android and was instrumental in making the OS the success it is, but moved on earlier this year to join Project X. Here, according to a New York Times report, he has worked with a team of scientists, engineers and designers to create a fleet of humanoids that Google imagines one day will do pedestrian work like home deliveries and manage some ‘human’ elements of manufacturing processes such as line assembly. It’s still only early days and Rubin was wise to caution those hoping for an early deployment about the protracted timelines of ‘moonshots’.

Andy Rubin is now in charge of a different kind of robot (Image credit: The New York Times)

Andy Rubin is now in charge of a different kind of robot (Image credit: The New York Times)


So how far away are we from a future that involves humanoids delivering us groceries in self-driving cars? A long way to go, but Rubin uses the example of the car to talk about how things that seem very far away can come true in a matter of months. “The automated car project was science fiction when it started... Now it is coming within reach.” He said issues like mobility of the robots, prosthetic movement have come a long way, but there is still work to be done in terms of the software of the Androids and the sensors employed.

The company is obviously tight-lipped about long-term plans, given that development is still ongoing and use cases have clearly not been identified. Though due to the fact that Google has total control over the whole robotics project, Rubin says it’s akin to a green field business and thus provides his team with a great deal of flexibility.

In the race to build the perfect robot, Google and Rubin have managed to acquire a host of companies who do work in the field from across the world. One of them is Schaft, a a Japanese company of roboticist alumni from Tokyo University, while another is US-based Industrial Perception, that works in computer vision systems and manoeuvrable robot limbs. Other companies crossed off the shopping list were Meka and Redwood Robotics, a San Francisco-based company, and Bot & Dolly, who made the robotic camera system used for filming the space thriller, Gravity. Google also bought Autofuss, for its work in advertising and design, as well as Holomni, which makes those tiny incredibly-advanced wheels that let robots move freely. Rubin told the paper more companies will be pursued in Google’s quest.

If the wild success enjoyed by his brainchild, Android, hasn’t done that already, this different breed of robots could finally cement Rubin’s place in history.

Published Date: Dec 17, 2013 01:11 pm | Updated Date: Dec 17, 2013 01:11 pm