Android's original boss Andy Rubin has been very quiet since stepping down in March, but has now revealed that he has been spending his time buying up robotics firms as part of a ten-year push into the industry sector by Google.
"Like any moonshot, you have to think of time as a factor," Rubin told The New York Times. "We need enough runway and a 10-year vision."
As well as time and vision, Rubin will need money, and he's convinced the Chocolate Factory's co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to back up the idea. Rubin has bought up seven robotics companies and says that using their technology a mobile robot dexterous enough for manufacturing or supply chain management can be built.
So far, Rubin has snaffled up Schaft, a Japanese firm making a humanoid robot, along with California's Meka and Redwood Robotics, which have similar designs. Also on Google's Team Robot are start-up Industrial Perception, which focuses on building robots to load and unload trucks, robotics camera makers Bot & Dolly, and design firms Autofuss and Holomni.
According to those familiar with the project, the team's first goal is to build robots that can be used in large-scale manufacturing and logistics. The new robot focus fits in with Rubin's roots – his first job after graduation was as a robotics engineer at Carl Zeiss, a position he held for three years before moving to Apple.
"I have a history of making my hobbies into a career," Mr. Rubin said. "This is the world's greatest job. Being an engineer and a tinkerer, you start thinking about what you would want to build for yourself."
Rubin said he was initially thinking about smaller, intelligent systems that could be integrated into existing products, like windscreen wipers that detect rain and fire themselves up. The technology is now mature enough to make some real changes, he said, and Google has a history of such developments.
"The automated car project was science fiction when it started," he told the NYT. "Now it is coming within reach."
"I feel with robotics it's a green field. We're building hardware, we're building software. We're building systems, so one team will be able to understand the whole stack."
Rubin didn’t say if the team would operate as a separate company or as a division of Google, but said the organization would be based in Palo Alto with an office in Japan. It's not part of the Chocolate Factory's X Lab, which suggests that Google will want to start selling its robotic output sooner rather than later. ®