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Google invests in a future with robots

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Google has quietly been buying seven technology companies this past year in an effort to create a new generation of robots. And the engineer heading the effort is Andy Rubin, the man who built Google’s Android software into the world’s dominant force in smartphones appears today in a N.Y. Times article.

Google executives acknowledge that robotic vision is a ‘moonshot.’ But it appears to be more realistic than Amazon’s proposed drone delivery service, which Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, revealed in a television interview the evening before one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.

What is reality for the vision of Google and robot technology? It has been tight lipped as in loose lips sink ships security tight. At least for now, Google’s robotics effort is not something aimed at consumers. Instead, the company’s expected targets are in manufacturing — like electronics assembly, which is now largely manual — and competing with companies like Amazon in retailing, according to several people with specific knowledge of the project.

A realistic case, according to several specialists, would be automating portions of an existing supply chain that stretches from a factory floor to the companies that ship and deliver goods to a consumer’s doorstep.

‘The opportunity is massive,’ said Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business. ‘There are still people who walk around in factories and pick things up in distribution centers and work in the back rooms of grocery stores.’

Mr. Rubin, the 50-year-old Google executive in charge of the robot technology effort, began his engineering career in robotics and has long had a well-known passion for building intelligent machines. Before joining Apple Computer, where he initially worked as a manufacturing engineer in the 1990s, he worked for the German manufacturing company Carl Zeiss as a robotics engineer.

He views this project as a ten year 'moon mission'. 'I have a history of making my hobbies into a career,' Mr. Rubin said in a telephone interview. 'This is the world’s greatest job. Being an engineer and a tinkerer, you start thinking about what you would want to build for yourself.'

How serious is Google about this vision? Earlier this year, Mr. Rubin stepped down as head of the company’s Android smartphone division. Since then he has convinced Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Mr. Page, that the time is now right for such a venture, and they have opened Google’s checkbook to back him. He declined to say how much the company would spend.

The search giant's robotics project is based in Palo Alto, California, and will have an office in Japan - one of the world's leading nations in the field.

A list of the seven companies purchased by Google to develop this project are listed in the BBC article,'Google robots may pose a challenge to Amazon drones'.

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