Good news for the deeply paranoid among us: If the apocalypse arrives via giant anthropomorphic robots, they probably won't be bankrolled by Google. On Thursday, Google's parent company, Alphabet, announced that it was selling Boston Dynamics, its premier robotics division, to the Japanese telco giant SoftBank for an undisclosed sum. The deal also includes a smaller robotics company called Schaft. Boston Dynamics was less a moonshot than a sci-fi horror brought to life. Even before being acquired by Google in 2013, the 25-year-old company had already developed a Beast Wars–style squadron of robot predators with names like BigDog and WildCat, as well as a humanoid model called Atlas.
Google parent Alphabet is shutting down its SCHAFT robotics unit after failing to find a buyer. Home to the company's giant bipedal bots designed to act as first responders in emergencies, the secretive division was supposed to go to Softbank as part of its Boston Dynamics buyout (another Google robotics venture). But that deal apparently broke down because "one or more [SCHAFT] employees" refused to join its new Japanese owner, reports Nikkei. As a result, Google says it was left with no option but to close its doors. It confirmed to TechCrunch that it's helping employees find new roles, most of which will be outside of Google and Alphabet.
Boston Dynamics The desire to make robots seem gentle and appealing is not foremost among Boston Dynamics' priorities. Its thuggish looking creations, usually inspired by an animal, have largely been developed for the US military, for purposes which are delicately described as "search and rescue" tasks. Boston Dynamics has also developed a humanoid prototype called Atlas, which is able to, in the company's words, "lift, carry and manipulate the environment" Schaft If Meka is providing the foundations for the top half of Google's robot, Schaft may offer the bottom. The Japanese designed robot, which stays balanced even when jostled, trounced its rivals at a recent robotics competition held by the US department of defence. Redwood Robotics Comprising of the amalgamated expertise of three major developers, including Meka, focused on the elusive goal of developing a fully functioning robotic arm.
Alphabet's Boston Dynamics has produced some of the coolest (and scariest) robotics advances in recent years, and now may soon be looking for a new home. According to Nikkei Asian Review, Toyota is in "final talks" to acquire two robotics divisions from Google-parent Alphabet, Boston Dynamics and Schaft, a company created by two former Tokyo University professors. Both divisions were acquired by Google in 2013. The move will allow Toyota to strengthen its artificial intelligence division, the Toyota Research Institute, that the automaker created in January. The institute currently has offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and Cambridge, Mass., not far from Boston Dynamics main headquarters in Waltham.
SoftBank Group is taking over Google parent Alphabet's robot dreams, buying Boston Dynamics to pursue a future when more machines intermingle with humans. As part of the transaction with Alphabet, SoftBank also agreed to buy Japanese bipedal robotics company Schaft. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Boston Dynamics, bought by Google in 2013 as part of a robotics acquisitions spree, made its name with a series of two- and four-legged machines that are able to stay upright even when pushed or traversing rocky terrain. Videos of the robots, known for their animal-like movements, are popular on YouTube.