Google Is Shopping for Robots in New Manufacturing Venture

Google has bought seven robotics companies in the last couple of months. Does that sound a little weird to you? Turns out Google may soon be a disruptive force in manufacturing.

Google has bought seven robotics companies in the last couple of months. Does that sound a little weird to you? Turns out Google may soon be a disruptive force in manufacturing.

 

Andy Rubin, the engine behind Android, is now powering Google’s robot manufacturing venture. While Rubin is a software star, he started his career as a robotics engineer at Carl Zeiss. He never lost interest in robots, collecting and building them for fun.

 

Rubin is not buying entry into the consumer robot market. He wants to make — yes, manufacture — industrial robots for niches like warehousing or distribution, which he believes are opportunities for productivity improvement. Before you say there are already plenty of robots for those applications, be prepared for the Google view to be very different.

 

The companies he is assembling are not big names in automation, and the new Google companies are not making everyday plant floor robots. For example, Bot & Dolly’s six-axis robots with integrated software, although designed with industrial applications in mind, were in control of the cameras and simulations in the film Gravity. Another of Google’s acquisitions, Boston Dynamics, has developed a galloping, bounding, and turning robot. Industrial Perception’s intelligent 3-D vision guidance system can handle jobs like unloading a truck. Most trucks contain many different-sized objects, and handling them is a job that requires judgment and decision making capabilities not easily found in today’s robots.

 

Plant managers and engineers should start keeping an eye on Google. Machines like those will challenge engineers to adapt them for work in the factory or distribution area. And IT and controls engineers are likely to find Android apps at the heart of new open source systems. Rubin’s Android platform offers many opportunities to develop apps that fit any company perfectly. Old guard automation manufacturers will need to re-examine what’s in their new product pipelines.

 

Google attracts some of the most brilliant minds in the world, people who work obsessively and believe in doing the impossible. With the companies they have acquired, Google has bought the talents of even more young and innovative people who can thrive in a loose corporate culture. With Google in the market, the robotics industry will never be the same.

 

Karen Wilhelm has worked in the manufacturing industry for 25 years, and blogs at Lean Reflections, which has been named as one of the top ten lean blogs on the web.

 

    March 14, 2014

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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