Google’s Rubin finds new Android Project, the Robotic Kind

by Matt Klassen on December 5, 2013

Having left his post as the head of Google’s Android platform, Andy Rubin, arguably one of today’s greatest technological minds, has found a new home within the company, one surprisingly enough, that now features a different kind of android…the robotic kind.

In an recent interview with The New York Times, Rubin revealed that he has landed at the heart of one of Google’s ongoing ‘moonshot’ research and development programs, one’s that are aimed squarely at creating the technology of the future. “Like any moonshot, you have to think of time as a factor. We need enough runway and a 10-year vision,” Rubin said, and it looks like Google is giving him all the time he needs.

Given that even Google recognizes this robotics project as a ‘moonshot,’ one might think that there isn’t much realistic expectation that Rubin will be able to achieve anything of significance, but that’s just not how Google works. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that self-driving cars and Google’s wearable Glass project were part of a similar ‘moonshot’ R&D project, both of which now stand on the verge of incorporation into our daily lives.

While robots already have a strong presence in the manufacturing industry, there are still vast sectors of the industrialized world sit untouched by robotic automation. So although Rubin’s latest android project may bring to mind visions of Star Trek’s Mr. Data, the purview of the project, as it stands, is more about mechanizing the rest of the manufacturing industry—electronics production for example, which is still largely done by hand—then it is about creating your personal robotic butler.

But don’t think Google chief Larry Page doesn’t see the potential for Rubin’s work on this ambitious project. “[Rubin’s] last big bet,  Android, started off as a crazy idea that ended up putting a supercomputer in hundreds of millions of pockets. It is still very early days for this, but I can’t wait to see the progress,” Page said in a Google+ post. Such enthusiasm is surprising though, given that it was widely rumoured Rubin was forced out his position as Android boss, making it all the more unlikely that he would remain with the company, let alone head the company’s next great secret project.

The company is understandably tight-lipped about any specifics regarding its plans for a robotic future—here comes that SkyNet nightmare again—but it’s clear from the scale of investment that this isn’t some pet project for Page, Rubin, and company. To that end, over the last six months Google has quietly acquired seven technology and robotic companies in an effort to create the next generation of robots, building the entire project, both software and hardware, from the ground up. “We’re building systems,” Rubin told the Times. “So one team will be able to understand the whole stack.”

Just imagine a future where the menial production tasks, one’s like electronics assembly, packing products, and moving products through the supply chain, are done robotically, instead of virtually enslaving beleaguered Chinese workers to do them instead. Although I can picture the headlines when the first robot worker of the future can no longer stand being treated like a machine…

As I mentioned, for now Google’s ‘moonshot’ robotics program does not have the consumer market in its sights, instead it’s aimed squarely at solving the great manufacturing problems of our day. Of course once that goal is achieved it won’t be much of a segue into consumer robots; it just isn’t likely to be any time soon.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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