Google terrified of its own robots, sells its robotics division Boston Dynamics to Toyota
Google’s parent company, Alphabet is selling the Boston Dynamics, the robotics division that it had purchased in 2013, to Toyota Research, a source familiar with the matter told Tech Insider. According to the sources, the deal is almost finalized. However, the price of the acquisition has not been disclosed, but Tech Insider’s source claims that the “ink is nearly dry” on the deal.
Within the company, the robotics division has been a source of tension since its co-founder Andy Rubin, left the company in 2014. Rubin, who also founded Android and led Google’s smartphone business for many years, drove the purchase of Boston Dynamics and brought in a bunch of other robotics companies as well. But after Rubin left, the company lost its direction.
According to an earlier report, the reason behind Alphabet’s decision to sell its robotics division was that the company’s executives wanted to get rid of any branch that is not able to create a consumer product in the next few years. Boston Dynamics, which is currently experimenting with various AI robots, was one of those units, which led to the selling decision. In addition, tension had risen between Alphabet and the team of engineers at Boston Dynamics.
Toyota’s purchase of Boston Dynamics was referred to by a former employee as a “friendly buyout.” Thanks to the links that it has to the Toyota Research Institute, which was established in November 2015 and started hiring in January this year. Its mission is to do research in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics.
The Toyota Research Institute was established to concentrate on research on artificial intelligence and robotics, which has Gill Pratt as its CEO. Pratt used to work with Boston Dynamics CEO and founder Marc Raibert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Once the deal is official, several Google employees working on robotics will also leave the company to continue the project at the Toyota Research Institute; Boston Dynamics operations manager Joseph Bondaryk and Google robotics division co-founder James Kuffner are among the group.
Before the Boston Dynamics was bought by Google, the company had undergoing contracts with the US military, and Google had to continue the existing contract even though it was of no interest to them.
In 2014, tensions started brewing between Google and Boston Dynamics, as Rubin had left the company. Rubin allowed Boston Dynamics to carry out its own research, and resisted Google’s intentions to create consumer products.
“At the end of the day what I saw was a sense of us and them instead of a we — we weren’t part of Google, we were sort of a separate thing,” said a former Boston employee.
According to rumors, Google wanted Boston Dynamics to create a commercial robot that would be comfortable to humans and easy to use. However, the robotic division seemed to refuse to renounce the study of a robot leg research and to accept Google’s project of a simpler version of robot what would move on wheels.
A video released by Boston Dynamics in February of its humanoid robot, Atlas, was the tipping point for the separation, reported Bloomberg in March. While the Atlas was received with interest by the tech press, but it also brought back the old fear that robots may end up replacing humans in working places.
This sale to Toyota’s Research Institute may be beneficial to both companies, as Google can calm the situation created within the division, and Boston Dynamics could again focus on scientific research.