Android developer Andy Rubin leads new robotics division that aims to complete online shopping with home delivery by droids,
The Dalles, Oregon, US, one of Google’s data centres, which was opened in 2006.
Online shopping is not the most glamorous aspect of the digital revolution, but it has just become the latest Silicon Valley battleground, with droids racing drones to become the courier of the future.
First Amazon promised to eliminate the drudgery of the post office queue with parcels delivered by drone. Now Google has revealed that it is developing humanoid robots that could one day carry groceries to your door.
Andy Rubin, the Google executive who brought smartphones to the masses by developing Google’s free Android software, has revealed he is working on a secret project for the search engine company to create a new generation of robots.
Rubin resigned unexpectedly from running Android in March, and over the past six months has quietly overseen Google’s acquisition of seven small companies whose combined technology could be used to create a robot with animal characteristics such as a form of vision and moving limbs.
“With robotics it’s a green field,” Rubin told the New York Times. “We’re building hardware, we’re building software, We’re building systems, so one team will be able to understand the whole stack.”
Google robotics will be based in Palo Alto, California, and in Japan. The companies acquired include Industrial Perception, an American start-up that has developed digital eyes and robot arms for use in loading lorries, Holomni, which produces caster wheels that can rapidly swivel in any direction, and Japan’s Schaft, whose robots generate as much power as a human and have mastered stable biped walking to cope with uneven ground (they can even retain their balance against the force of a human kick).
Sources say plans are to develop machines that can be used for a range of activities, from manufacturing small electronics like smartphones – still mostly assembled by hand – to packing goods in warehouses and ultimately making home deliveries.
If Amazon and Google’s plans materialise, the unsuspecting online shopper could find a dazzling array of remote controlled technology arriving by air and road at their doorstep.
On Sunday, Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, kicked off his company’s Christmas publicity push by revealing a project to use drones to deliver purchases to the doorstep within half an hour of an order being placed.
Meanwhile, Google is approaching a breakthrough with self-driving cars that will use sensors and onboard computers to steer through traffic, raising the prospect that purchases could be delivered by robots in driverless vehicles.
The recently launched Google shopping service, a pilot project, is already delivering goods in San Francisco from Walgreens pharmacies, Target discount stores and American Eagle Outfitters.
Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield, said: “This is a very exciting development at Google. The robotics community is waiting with bated breath to find out what is being planned. Clearly, given the companies that have been acquired this is going to be research on the development of humanoid robots.
“People should not be worried that [the robots] will be super intelligent. It is more likely they are going to develop these for domestic purposes such as assistance in elder care or perhaps for bar work or as receptionists. We can only speculate. But with the kind of money that Google can throw into a project like this, it is likely to be astonishing.”
Rubin worked for the German manufacturing firm Carl Zeiss, as a robotics engineer, before joining Apple and then Google.
He said that much of the technology needed for humanoid machines was already in place. There was room for improvement in areas including software and sensors, but mobility and moving hands were already well advanced.
He described the robotics project as a “moonshot”, but unlike other Google research labs Rubin’s division intends to produce machines that will eventually come to market.
“Like any moonshot, you have to think of time as a factor,” Rubin said. “We need enough runway and a 10-year vision.”
While Amazon’s drones may prove little more than a publicity stunt, Rubin has a proven commercial track record. Android, launched not long after Apple’s first iPhone, was slow to catch on, but its model of providing free software for use in any manufacturer’s smartphone has helped Samsung surge ahead of Apple. Today, 80% of all smartphones sold run Android software.
Posted By Mantosh pal