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Google Japan Robotics The Almighty Buck

Google Has Finally Found a Buyer For Its Scary Robot Companies Boston Dynamics and Schaft: SoftBank (recode.net) 50

Japan's SoftBank is buying robotics group Boston Dynamics -- the makers of the bipedal Atlas, the jumping Sand Flea and the animal-like BigDog, Spot and Wildcat robots -- from Alphabet, more than a year after Google's parent put the unit up for sale. From a report: Google acquired Boston Dynamics in 2013 under the leadership of Andy Rubin, the co-inventor of Android, who was leading a wave of acquisitions of robotics companies under the search giant. Boston Dynamics' robots routinely make headlines, including a high-profile demo at this year's TED conference. The company, led by CEO Marc Raibert, has made a robotic cheetah that can run 28 miles per hour, a robotic dog that it recently used to deliver packages to doorsteps in Boston, and most recently a massive legged and wheeled robot that can clear hurdles and walk down stairs. The firm has been hailed by other roboticists for its ability to blend hardware and artificial intelligence to make machines capable of dynamic, agile movements. Its most recent wheeled robot, Handle, can manipulate objects that are comparable to its own weight, and its four-legged, animal-like robots can maneuver over different types of terrain.
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Google Has Finally Found a Buyer For Its Scary Robot Companies Boston Dynamics and Schaft: SoftBank

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 09, 2017 @09:45AM (#54584913)

    That's significant. Schaft has better actuator technology; electrical, rather than hydraulic. They built a very nice humanoid robot a few years ago.

    As I wrote last year when BD came up, the guy behind BigDog was Dr. Martin Buehler, who previously had an ambulatory robotics lab at McGill, and whose group built the first good running robot quadruped. He's at Disney now. Raibert was primarily responsible for the hydraulics; his name is on the patent for that. But unless SoftBank wants to build giant mecha, hydraulic systems are too bulky. Also, Raibert is 68 now.

    When Google bought both companies, I thought they'd put Boston Dynamics control algorithms on Schaft hardware. That did not happen, as far as anyone on the outside can tell. But everyone loves Schaft, especially their hardware.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      But unless SoftBank wants to build giant mecha, hydraulic systems are too bulky.

      It's a Japanese company, of course they want to build giant mecha. The human-sized robotacops will be primarily just to cause distractions and explode spectacularly.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday June 09, 2017 @12:00PM (#54585953)

      Schaft has better actuator technology; electrical, rather than hydraulic.

      Nitpick: BD uses pneumatics (air) rather than hydraulics (oil).
      Pneumatics have several advantages over hydraulics:
      1. Air is free.
      2. Leaks are much less messy.
      3. It is much easier to make modifications.
      4. Air has less inertia and viscosity, so faster actions are possible.
      5. Air is compressible so pneumatic actuators can absorb shocks and impacts.

      But, as you said, electrical actuators are generally even better.

      • by l20502 ( 4813775 )
        Wrong, bigdog and other Boston Dynamics robots are hydraulic [slidesharecdn.com] Air makes a lot more noise and being compressible makes it pretty useless outside of industrial machines moving stuff around or compressed air tools.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Does anybody want to to buy my Lego Mindstorms?

  • I wonder if this company, as now a japanese owned brand, will be more likely to push thier robot development for in home uses instead of industrial uses. I want a robot to do my dishes.
  • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Friday June 09, 2017 @09:50AM (#54584967)

    What I find most odd about this situation is how reliant Google's robotics division was on Andy Rubin. The only reason I have found for why Google was selling Boston Dynamics is that after Rubin's departure the string of Google robotics acquisitions were left without direction. I can understand why a small startup can be significantly impacted by the loss of one key contributor, but it's surprising for the strategy of a huge enterprise like Google to be so dependent on a single SVP.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Boston Dynamics was pretty directionless before Google bought it too. They started out drinking milk from the national defense titty, but when that money dried up they had very few options.

    • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Friday June 09, 2017 @11:20AM (#54585635) Homepage Journal

      it's surprising for the strategy of a huge enterprise like Google to be so dependent on a single SVP

      Another possibility is that nobody thought this was a good idea except Andy, but people appreciate Andy and Google could afford to let Andy play with it.

      I don't know what really happened, of course.

  • by kwerle ( 39371 ) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Friday June 09, 2017 @10:39AM (#54585321) Homepage Journal

    This is /. I know who Boston Dynamics is.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    SoftBank Group Corp. (? Sofutobanku Gurpu Kabushiki-gaisha)[4] is a Japanese multinational telecommunications and Internet corporation established on September 3, 1981, and headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. It has operations in broadband, fixed-line telecommunications, e-commerce, Internet, technology services, finance, media and marketing, semiconductor design, and other businesses.[5] The company is headed by founder Masayoshi Son. ...
    SoftBank bought COMDEX from The Interface Group in 1995 ...
    On January 28, 2008, it was announced that SoftBank and Tiffany & Co. collaborated in making a limited 10 model-only cellphone ...
    On October 15, 2012, SoftBank announced plans to take control of American Sprint Nextel by purchasing a 70% stake for $20 billion ...
    In 2014, SoftBank co-designed Pepper, a humanoid robot, with Aldebaran Robotics. ...

    • Softbank is way way bigger than Boston Dynamics, and is one of the biggest technology companies in the world. I am surprised that you don't know that.

      Factoid: The CEO of Softbank, Masayoshi Son, is ethnically Korean, and unlike many "zainichi" he never tried to hide his Korean ancestry. So Softbank was long excluded from many of the insider cliques and cross-ownership deals, and took on a much more free-wheeling style and international outlook than is common in Japan. This ultimately led to far greater s

      • by kwerle ( 39371 )

        Meh. I don't think I own anything with a softbank label on it. And I don't remember seeing anything advertised by them. It looks like their largest California office is about 400 people. And it looks like a lot of their website content is in Japanese only. I don't see a lot of open source software from them.

        They're just not a company that I'd be all that likely to take notice of. Clearly they're huge, but there are plenty of big companies that don't catch my interest.

  • by Hentai007 ( 188457 ) on Friday June 09, 2017 @11:54AM (#54585891)

    A company run by a Japanese billionaire that's obsessed with AI just bought a company that produces "Nightmare Inducing" animal like robots...

    Nope, Don't see how this can possibly go horribly wrong.

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