Good news for people who hate robots: Alphabet Inc., which you may remember as Google, is reportedly selling Boston Dynamics, the company it acquired in 2013 as part of a push into robotics research. At the time, The New York Times noted that Boston Dynamics was "the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year;" now it has the distinction of being the first one sold off.
Boston Dynamics is best known by the public for putting out videos of their eerie-looking dog and cheetah robots in action. The robots are usually running very fast, climbing things, or being cruelly kicked by their human masters. After the most recent video of a humanoid robot was released in February, a Google spokesperson remarked in an internal email (that was accidentally made public within the company) that Google's research lab X should distance itself from the video, writing, "There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs."
According to Bloomberg, which broke the news, Google's robot group, which Google has dubbed Replicant, has been "plagued by leadership changes, failures to collaborate between companies and an unsuccessful effort to recruit a new leader" following the acquisition of many companies and the departure of its original head, Andy Rubin. According to emails and a meeting memo accidentally shared with many of Google's employees, an adviser to Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page expressed concern that Boston Dynamics would take a decade to generate significant revenue.
That's an issue fresh on Alphabet's mind after revealing publicly for the first time just how much it's spending on research and development, a.k.a. "crazy moonshots" that it hopes to one day monetize. In 2015, it spent $3.5 billion on X, Project Loon, driverless cars and the rest of its futuristic projects, but only brought in $448 million in revenue on them.
The Bloomberg report on the sale says that in a meeting last December the head of Google X told robot group members that "if robotics aren’t the practical solution to problems that Google was trying to solve, they would be reassigned to work on other things." It's also simply possible that Google's moon-shot efforts are headed other ways. As early as 2013, even before Boston Dynamics was acquired, Google co-founder Larry Page seemed to have his mind on projects that diverged from the sort of robotics work they do.
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Boston Dynamics would seem to have no shortage of suitors. The Bloomberg report includes rumors of several potential high-profile buyers including Toyota and Amazon.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org