Over the past few months, we have seen a steady push by Google into the robotics arena. Their top secret, ‘area 51’ arm, Google X, which is just a stones throw from their GooglePlex corporate headquarters in Northern California has been known to push the boundaries in technology and is responsible for state of the art innovations such as driverless autonomous vehicles and is rumoured to include an even more secret military wing.

With high profile acquisitions such as the ‘Cheetah Robot’ company, Boston Dynamics, and a few other robotics vendors, one can only attempt to speculate what they are planning to do. Well, let’s try..

What do Robotics and Internet Search have in common?

The same thing that Smart car with a camera and a GPS system does… Not much… and then… Hello StreetView. Google’s bottomless pockets allow them to obtain the best minds in the world from trending tech startups. Just a few days back they threw a few dollars without batting an eyelid to acquire Nest; 3.2 billion of those dollars to be specific. Large acquisitions like this are done with great intent  (mostly secret intent), so who knows what is to come. For example, in the past few days we have seen Google’s contact lenses with embedded glucose level detection electronics. Could they be merging all these ventures to move heavily into wearable tech, following in the footsteps of Google Glasses? Quite likely, but that is a whole other topic.

We presume that Google is investing more into autonomous tech as robots would allow them to ‘index’ areas or regions that us mortal and error prone humans are unable to venture into. All we know for now is that something really innovative and will come, and probably soon.

What is Google up to with all this Robotic kit?

It’s a little known fact that Google is one of the worlds largest electronic hardware manufacturers. In fact, they design and manufacture almost all the kit that makes up their vast, efficient and high tech data centres. So they already have the facilities in place to develop and manufacture a variety of state of the art equipment.

Okay, let’s speculate…

  • Ocean mapping: Let’s not limit ourselves to ‘simple’ ocean floor gradient mapping. How about ocean currents at different depths, temperatures,  identification and monitoring of aquatic populations, coral reef monitoring.
  • Deep sea cabling: While we are still on the ocean theme, unmanned robotics may allow us to more easily lay fibre optic cable between continents surpassing the somewhat archaic and relatively slow method currently in use by ship. Or perhaps cable repair and replacement.
  • Arial mapping drones: Go Go Google maps. How about a low flying autonomous crafts that circle the globe 24/7 just taking pictures. (Yeah, I hear all your privacy junkies shouting!). Why use satellite images when you can have lower orbit, cheaper and higher resolution images with the use of these solar powered vehicles that in todays tech, are able to run unmanned around the clock, fuel free (Except sunlight that is).
  • Security and law enforcement: Who you gonna call? As Google and other large tech giants aim to lower costs and increase redundancy by moving their large power hungry data centres to parts of the world less travelled or known to have higher crime rates, security comes into question. But why risk a human casualty when we can have robotic sentinels on guard around the clock.
  • Mining and mineral discovery: It may be a job cutter, but think of the lives it will save due to mining accidents.
  • Google space exploration: How about indexing the solar system, better yet, the Milky way.
  • Delivery Drones: Following in Amazons footsteps, how about drone delivery. Perhaps this will be common pretty soon. Subject to FAA approval.
  • Google personal assistant: What better than an assistant who(which) is at your beck and call around the clock. It does talk back and doesn’t have an attitude. Are we getting closer to an iRobot world?
  • Manufacturing: Perhaps Google wants to scale up their hardware manufacturing facilities and don’t want to outsource to China with its ever increasing labour costs. It’s not really that cheap to outsource anymore, coupled with shipping and quality issues, it’s now getting cheaper to bring manufacturing and assembly back home.

Are robots the final chapter of human evolution?

That’s a really hard one to answer. We are always looking for the next big thing and we really don’t know what that is until it is here. The human species as intelligent and innovative as we are, have already been surpassed by technology in various ways. But that is our nature. We are tool building beasts and in our current age of nano and atomic technology the sky is the limit.

How far away are we from a futuristic, Star Trek, cyborg and gadget filled world? We can’t say for sure, but not too far indeed. Only time will tell what the future might hold for us so let’s just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

What do you think Google is up to with all these robotics acquisitions? Drop us a comment to let us know.

James O’Reilly

Images: Google.com