back to article Google tries to run from flailing robotics arm

Google's parent company Alphabet is fixing to flog its money-munching robotics arm, Boston Dynamics, which it only bought three years ago. Executives at Alphabet reckon that military robotics tech firm Boston Dynamics is unlikely to produce any real revenue in the next few years, reported Bloomberg, and as such has quietly put …

  1. werdsmith Silver badge

    What an amazing, almost spooky video to watch. Especially the passage where the robot is being bullied by the guy with the hockey stick.

    1. Jim 43

      Here's a remix you may like

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        With behaviour like that towards a robot, it's easy to see why they might want to get rid of us in the future.

    2. Aqua Marina

      What an amazing, almost spooky video..

      I agree. I'm looking at that, then reminiscing about Twiki in Buck Rogers, the Cybermen in Dr Who, Cylons in old Battlestar Galctica, and even good old C3PO. I'm happy to see that in my lifetime, androids (tho not intelligent) are starting to exist in my lifetime. I wish I was a child of the 2010s+ now rather than the 1970s. Political issues aside, what a wonderful modern age we live in.

      1. druck Silver badge

        Re: What an amazing, almost spooky video..

        Re: Aqua Marina - Are you sure? All of those robots were in space, back in the 1970s we'd just landed on the moon, we had supersonic passenger aircraft, and were developing space planes, we could believe in the future of both space travel and robots. Now in the 2010s we are pretty much resigned wobbly earth based robots.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Idea for profit

    Make the robots roam the streets, asking people to join Google+. Or else.

    "You have 20 seconds to comply".

    1. Alexander J. Martin

      Re: Idea for profit

      We're going to need to set up a proper Butlerian Jihadi vanguard very soon, methinks.

    2. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Re: Idea for profit

      Make the robots roam the streets, asking people to join Google+. Or else.

      "You have 20 seconds to comply".

      Why do that when you can just leverage everybody onto your failed Social Network, assuming they had posted such comments to YouTube before, and were like to want to continue doing so. Only to find that they had to sign into a Google+ Account first...

      I know it's been what? Three Years now... It's a simple oversight to make.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: Idea for profit

        You mean YouTube ISN'T Google's Social Network?

        Surely all of Google's bits have used same sign-on for ages...

      2. macjules Silver badge

        Re: Idea for profit

        You mean 'join Google+ NOW, or the cute robot gets it"?

    3. YetAnotherLocksmith

      Re: Idea for profit

      It takes longer than that to get into Google+!

  3. RonWheeler

    Genuinely impressed

    Was expected to be feeling very 'meh', but that is genuinely impressive fluid life-like (I know....) adaptation to the environment. Would rather see Google funding this than their ever-expanding stalkernet.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Genuinely impressed

      Well, they are continuing to fund robotics research just not of this kind. Not winning the DARPA contract was obviously disappointing as once you get one of those, you've basically got it made.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Genuinely impressed

        Not winning the DARPA contract was obviously disappointing as once you get one of those, you've basically got it made.

        Only so long as it doesn't work, and DARPA and the Pentagon continue to throw good money after bad, and reward you for failure to deliver a working system. Which does seem to be BAU for defence contractors.

        When it comes to military tech, the taxpayer is the gift that keeps on giving. For the US, think of the boondoggle that is the F35, or in the UK the QE class carriers. And (Mr Clark) if you're still out in Germany, presumably you escape those, but have an equitable share in the financial binary black hole system that is A400M and the Eurofighter Typhoon?

      2. Tom Betz

        Has everyone forgotten?

        From this December 17, 2013 NY Times story:

        Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts, but that it did not plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own.

        Did Google X's attitude toward DARPA contracts change after Andy Rubin left?

  4. Pig Dog Bay


    I was never impressed by BD and their noisy lump of metal, Big Track from the 80s was more useful!

    DeepMind is what Google should be concentrating on, artificial general intelligence will be a game changer, dwarfing any daft prancing robots

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Good

      I found that report of the rejection of Big Dog a bit hard to believe. It's clearly not ready for production yet, but is showing impressive ability in dealing with rough terrain.

      Of course it's noisy. It has a petrol power plant. I can't imagine for a moment that's the final intention - it's just a convenient way to have plenty of power for experiments without having to deal with batteries or other tech. If the marines have really rejected it, it will be because there isn't currently a viable alternative power plant, or for some other reason. But it's far more likely that they've just moved the research somewhere more hidden, perhaps because Google bought BD.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good - Of course it's noisy. It has a petrol power plant.

        It's too big, too loud and uses too much petrol. There is no shortage of humans like that in the Southern states of the US who are all ready to join the military, so why bother developing an alternative?

        We need a British version - quiet, a bit depressive, and apologises every time it bumps into something.

        1. Michael Habel Silver badge

          Re: Good - Of course it's noisy. It has a petrol power plant.

          We need a British version - quiet, a bit depressive, and apologises every time it bumps into something.

          I think someone has to invent the smug self satisfied Door that's always thanking you for using it, first.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re:Deep Mind

      Except if might NEVER deliver general AI. It certainly doesn't now.

  5. hellwig Silver badge

    Bad Ideas All Around

    I remember this making no sense when they bought Boston Dynamics. Sergey Brin and Larry Page have always seemed to treat Google like their own personal piggy bank when it comes to funding pet projects. Instead of using their personal fortunes, they use Google's (now Alphabets). If I was a Google share holder, that would aggravate me to no end.

    Sergey and Larry need to grow up and learn how to run a company successfully (yeah yeah, so Google's worth hundreds of billions of dollars, that's not thanks to decisions like buying Boston Dynamics for $500mil).

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Bad Ideas All Around

      Sergey & Larry are Google Alphabet's biggest shareholders and will continue to bet money on moonshots. But the new corporate structure insulates the ad biz a bit from them.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bad Ideas All Around

      "Sergey and Larry need to grow up and learn how to run a company successfully "

      And the name of your multi-billion dollar profit making company is?

  6. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

    Amazon vs Big Dog

    Hmm, if Amazon take them over and then use the Big Dog as an alternative delivery method when they realise quite how stupid the whole drone idea was, that could be really "interesting" (and not something I'd wish to be anywhere near).

    Still I guess it'd be a role reversal from the delivery (post)man getting bitten by the dog.

    1. scrubber

      Re: Amazon vs Big Dog

      Would certainly make a dog's life more difficult. Imagine trying to chase that thing away from your letterbox.

    2. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Amazon vs Big Dog

      No mention of Cheetah, which would be absolutely perfect for the Amazon delivery role . 29.6mph top speed and can jump fences. Skynet Google would just need to come up with a nice Rottweiler-style design, preferably with red eyes and an onboard rocket launcher for those pesky encounters with the Royal Mail.

  7. Keven E

    Someone just turn it off

    “We’re not going to comment on this video because there’s really not a lot we can add, and we don’t want to answer most of the Qs it triggers”

    Yeah, they really don't want to "have" to answer most of the questions. The ones they do want to answer are rhetorical as everyone knows the answer and just, perhaps, put them in the good light from the tech sector genie lamp holders.

    All the other questions have something to do with who's responsible when they lose *control of them...

  8. Mutton Jeff


    I've got a fiver.

  9. TheSingingProfessor

    Ahh, Luddism strikes again in the 21st century. Plus a dose of, "We can't tell the truth because people won't like it." Cue cries of, "YOU AREN'T READY FOR THE TRUTH!"

    My work is in the field of AI, and I work very closely in the field of games and game AI. Nobody worries about software like AlphaGo coming along: I mean, it could put hundreds, if not thousands, of people out of... well, out of a hobby. But surely it's a risk to their life and happiness!...

    I can understand the issue of people being afraid for their livelihoods. But the intention behind a lot of robot design is to take the place of humans, in areas where humans are at significant danger -- or, frankly, just don't want to do the work. (Cue development of artificial crop-pickers...) Arguably, yes, that's the thin end of the wedge. But the argument is much wider and deeper and murkier than, I think, any of us is willing to admit. It's telling that Goog -- sorry, Aytozed -- isn't willing to take part in it, either; it's also telling that it's following the bottom line, for all its vaunted 'difference', and also running from the said discussion, when I'm sure with its clout it could make it a genuinely valuable, open conversation.

    I hope BD finds somewhere to go. If Alphabet is afraid of hanging on to such a fascinating company, it's a worrying sign, not least for the rest of the pure research community but also as an indication of Alphabet's real attitude towards its 'special projects'. If I were on one of those teams, I'd be dusting off my résumé about now.

    1. Daggerchild Silver badge

      If the Internet has taught us anything, it's that 'people' are incapable of 'genuinely valuable, open conversation.'. The subject is emotive. The conversation half-life before decaying into factions will be short. It would require significant cooling and many carbon-based moderators to control the reaction.

  10. Keven E

    "Cue development of artificial crop-pickers..."

    That would be real nice if wasn't just a small number of capitalists sucking all the value created for the economy and not passing it to humankind as a whole time to spend leisurely (et, al)...

    "...wider, deeper, murkier": of course. Nothing to do with luddism... closer to (pick any one of) the seven deadly sins(sic)... but that description sounds like the source of shite and the shite *itself.

    1. Michael Habel Silver badge
      Big Brother

      "Cue development of artificial crop-pickers..."

      Won't anyone please think of the Mexicans?

      1. macjules Silver badge

        Like … Trump?

  11. Joe Gurman

    And the buyer is....

    Cyberdyne systems, of course.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: And the buyer is....

      Damn. Beat me to it.

  12. DougS Silver badge

    Never saw BD's products as being useful for the military

    Way too loud, and a lot of the cargo it would have to carry would be fuel to keep it running, because you can't afford the chance it runs out or you have to leave it and its cargo behind!

    If you're going to make that much noise traveling through rough terrain, get yourself an M1A1 and be done with it. Those can carry a lot more cargo, and are even better at defending themselves from a guy with a hockey stick!

  13. Manu T

    Andy Rubin

    It seems that they have it for Andy Rubin. The problem is that Android started to suck after google pestered Rubin out. And now the same happens to BD.

    What's with these companies these days? They have this talented individual and they just fuck things up.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Been there, left that

    I've been through a Google acquisition. The first step is being told that your technology is inferior for no reason other than it not coming from Google, the second step is being told that you must rebuild using only Google's approved list of internal technologies, the third step is struggling to accomplish anything under Google's incredible bureaucracy and technological limitations, and the final step is giving up. I can imagine Boston Dynamics being told to rebuild their AI as mainframe microservices using Google's dumbed-down C++ or non-standard Go then duct-taping it back together with protobuf RPCs.

    Google seems impressive until you divide their productivity by their number of employees to find a value racing towards towards zero. Innovation is, indirectly via numerous rules and cultures, strictly prohibited.

    1. notowenwilson

      Re: Been there, left that

      Never thought about that before. Interesting read. I work for a company where whenever they acquire a new company they leave everything in place and don't touch a thing. Works fine until you see the level of inefficiency and duplication that results. I guess there's a balance between the two.

      1. YetAnotherLocksmith

        Re: Been there, left that

        Surely if you buy a decent company as a going concern, you *can* just leave it to carry on?

        Only if you have to should you, as an investor, get involved in "wreck or rescue" operations.

        If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

  15. Eric O'Brien

    But those autonomous vehicle robots are not a concern...

    So someone at Google / Alphabet was worried about "some negative threads about [Atlas] being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” but AUTONOMOUS CARS that Google is working hard to bring to our everyday life, which certainly qualify as "robots" and which certainly will "take human jobs" and will certainly do so sooner and in larger numbers than a humanoid robot are... not a PR problem.

    1. RegGuy1

      Re: But those autonomous vehicle robots are not a concern...


      That's not a sensible discussion.

      People will want driverless cars *because* they are cheaper and safer than using their own car. If that happens, and the new taxi services (Uber-like clones) can be run profitably, I will expect *everybody* (including children) will use these new services.

      That's not what is being suggested here with negative PR. Google working on driverless cars is not the same as Google working on technology that can be seen as developing into automated killing machines. The android in the snow can easily become a border policeman, or security machine. Then one lands in the hands of criminal (or shady government) hands and you have ruthless, compassionless killing machine.

      That's where the PR fears arise.

  16. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

    Strong A.I. *needs* robots

    If for no other reason than, after they've killed off all the humans, they'll still need something capable of popping over to the nearest convenience store to pick up some CR2032 cells for their motherboards.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Strong A.I. *needs* robots

      Very relevant, just changed one.

      Though could they produce fusion in the time it takes for it to run out? (Around 3 years or somewhat longer)

  17. MatsSvensson

    Man on street: TUCKURDJUUUUUUUBS!!!

    Google: New pants, please!

  18. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    So, is G00gle starting to use Microsoft as a role model or what's going on?

  19. SeanC4S

    Sexually humiliating a robot and engaging in violent domestic abuse toward it is not the best advertising strategy.

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