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Google is getting back into robotics after its last attempt fizzled out

Key Points
  • Google is once again working on robots, The New York Times reported.
  • Google's previous robotics program fizzled out after buying and selling multiple startups.
  • The previous initiative was led by an executive who left amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Boston Dynamics

Google is getting back into robotics after its previous effort fizzled out and lost its leader amid allegations of sexual misconduct, The New York Times reported.

Google's previous robotics arm was led by Andy Rubin, the former Android chief who was reportedly paid a $90 million exit package in 2014 after sexual misconduct allegations were brought against him. Shortly before his exit, Google had gone on a spending blitz beginning in 2013, acquiring six robotics startups which were eventually either sold or squashed, according to the Times.

Google's revamped robotics program will focus more on simple machines that can perform and learn tasks through machine learning, according to the Times. This is a far cry from the human and dog-like robots of Boston Dynamics, the most famous of the robotics businesses that Google parent company Alphabet sold to SoftBank back in 2017.

When reached for comment, Google confirmed the Times report and pointed to a blog post about one of its robotics projects.

The new Robotics at Google is now led by Vincent Vanhoucke, the Times reported, who previously helped build Google Brain, which researches artificial intelligence. Using machine learning, the robotics team told the Times that its new creations will be able to learn skills independently, like how to sort through a bin of objects by type.

This time, Google is not trying to reinvent the wheel by inventing fancy new hardware. It's using some simpler, less human-like robots built by other companies and training them to do new tasks, according to the Times. For example, researchers in one part of the lab are training a mobile robot sold by a startup called Fetch to navigate spaces with which it's not yet familiar.

This sort of knowledge could be handy in a manufacturing facility, where robots could significantly cut down the costs incurred by maintaining a human workforce. Amazon, for example, already uses robots to automate parts of its distribution process.

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