From Android to robots: Andy Rubin is now leading Google’s robotics arm

by: Bogdan PetrovanDecember 4, 2013

Meka M1 Mobile Manipulator - YouTube 43 001148

Andy Rubin stepped down from the lead of Google’s Android group in March, leaving Chrome boss Sundar Pichai to take over his creation. At that moment, it was rumored that Rubin was leaving for a robots-related secret project inside Google. Now Rubin confirmed to the New York Times that he’s working on a “moonshot” project that involves robots.

Not many people know that Andy Rubin is Android. Back in the 90’s when he was working at Apple, Rubin was nicknamed Android by his colleagues because of his passion for robotics. Rubin went on to found Android Inc, which Google acquired in 2005 to form the foundation of its mobile OS division.

With his new project, the father of Android is returning to his first passion, and he has Google’s full support behind him. Since March, the company has secretly acquired seven companies working in robotics and related fields. Acquisitions include Meka, which designs humanoid robots, Redwood Robotics, maker of a robotic arm, and Industrial Perception, a company that develops software for computer vision. Rubin told the NYT that he is considering more acquisitions.

Here’s a demo of the M1 Mobile Manipulator developed by Meka:

Unlike some of the other moonshots that Google’s working on, Rubin’s robotics project is meant to begin commercial operation sooner, rather than later. The division may remain part of Google or it could be spun off as a subsidiary.

Rubin didn’t go into much detail about what the robots he is developing will actually do, but said he is targeting the manufacturing and logistic sectors. In his vision, robots may take over many tedious, low-grade jobs, like packaging products in factories or working in warehouses. Citing people with knowledge of the matter, The New York Times says Google specifically targets the electronics manufacturing industry.

Rubin didn’t say when Google plans to reveal more about its robot-making initiative, but in a posting on Google Plus, CEO Larry Page said the project is still in its “very early days”.

According to Rubin, “breakthroughs would still be necessary in areas like software and sensors, […] but hardware issues like mobility and moving hands and arms had been resolved”. Nevertheless, the fact that the company is willing to talk publicly about the project could mean it’s already made good progress.