Google Buys Boston Dynamics, Maker of Animal-inspired Robots

Google confirmed on Friday that it had completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics-design company.

A robot designed by Boston Dynamics. Photo: Boston Dynamics

The company announced on Friday that it had officially acquired Boston Dynamics, engineering company that has designed robots for the Pentagon.

Boston Dynamics gained Internet fame through YouTube videos of its agile, often gas-powered robots dealing with ice, snow, and other obstacles. The videos show four-legged robots bustling through rough terrain, or sprinting around parking lots. One recent video showed their Cheetah robot sprinting 29 mph on a treadmill, faster than Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash.

Among the standouts in Boston Dynamics’ collection of robots, the most well-known are BigDog, a four-legged robot that can travel over various types of terrain and PETMAN, a humanoid robot that tests military clothing and equipment. Both robots move with an unnerving amount of natural motion that many would expect to see in a special effects-laden film.

Boston Dynamics recently debuted the WildCat, a four-legged robot specifically designed for speed-running. Developed with funding from DARPA’s M3 robotics-engineering program, it can gallop at around 16 miles per hour. While that may not seem very fast, it’s apparent that the company’s goal wasn’t just speed-running, but rapid movement that mimics the motions of living animals, such as horses and antelopes, reports Mashable.

Boston Dynamics has multi-million-dollar contracts with the US military’s advanced research division, Darpa, for the production of human-like and other robots. The company’s most famous creation, BigDog, was another Pentagon-sponsored project.

One DARPA-funded project is the Atlas, a 6-foot 2-inch, 330-pound robot with 28 hydraulically actuated joints and two sets of hands capable of many natural human movements.

The Atlas is part of Boston Dynamics’ DARPA Robotics Challenge, where seven teams compete to create a robot that can navigate rough terrain, drive a car and in DARPA’s words, “advance the technology necessary to create robots capable of assisting humans in disaster response.”

Google is not saying how much money it paid for Boston Dynamics, and said that it does not plan to release financial information on any of the other eight robotics companies it has purchased in the last 6 months.

Google have apparently been buying up lots of robotics firms lately with a view to some unspecified future robotics projects, under the command of the Andy Rubin who ran the Android phone bit of the company for a while.

“The future is looking awesome,” Andy Rubin tweeted Friday, including a link to the New York Times’ article about Google’s acquisition.

Whatever Rubin has in store, he’s recently described his efforts as a “moonshot.” That said, he also wants to get Google robots – or Google-created robotic technology of some sort — into the market within a reasonable time frame. He doesn’t want product development to lag for years; rather, he said he believes that he’ll be able to deliver Google ‘bots at some point over the next few years.

Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has not sold robots commercially, but has pushed the limits of mobile and off-road robotics technology, mostly for Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa. Early on, the company also did consulting work for Sony on consumer robots like the Aibo robotic dog.

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