Artificial intelligence and robotics are advancing at breakneck speed, but do they make for a viable business? Google seems to think maybe not. Google’s new parent company Alphabet is planning to sell Boston Dynamics, a robotics company that it acquired a few years ago. Despite the marketability and relative success of simple, consumer-oriented robots like the Roomba, more advanced humanoid robots like those developed by Boston Dynamics probably have a long way to go before they will become feasible products. It has also been speculated that one deterrent factor is negative public response to humanoid robots that could threaten to take away jobs from humans.
Boston Dynamics have received funding from DARPA and the U.S. Marine Corps in the past, because many of their robots have been geared toward military or similar use. Historically, many of humankind’s greatest technological advancements have been made in the name of war. That makes it kind of disappointing that a consumer-focused company such as Google hasn’t found a way to make a sustainable business out of some of the most advanced robotics technology around. It would be great to see these kind of advancements supported by businesses and private investments, rather than military and government spending.
Alphabet isn’t the only company around though. Amazon and Toyota have also been investing in AI and robotics. Combined, they have spent billions of dollars on the industry. It’s possible that one of these two companies might buy Boston Dynamics from Alphabet. Although the fear that commercially available humanoid robots might take away many jobs has some legitimacy, we should still be rooting for these companies to find non-military applications of new technology. Besides, robots will also create new jobs for technicians and programmers who can maintain and run them.
In a video that went viral, Boston Dynamics showed the incredible capabilities of one of their robots. The robot is shown performing tasks like lifting boxes and placing them on shelves. The robot is also able to remain upright while walking on uneven terrain and to pick itself up if it is knocked over. The video is uploaded under Boston Dynamics Youtube channel. These robots already seem capable of helping out in a warehouse or doing simple menial tasks. One could easily imagine them being used to help disabled people with everyday tasks or working in hostile environments like warehouses full of dangerous materials.
Whether or not you like the idea of humanoid robots, AI and robotics and are probably not going to disappear anytime soon. Boston Dynamics has shown what we are capable of now, and they have invited us to dream about what robotics technology might accomplish in the future. It’s sad to see Google dropping them, but hopefully this won’t be the last we hear from this innovative company.