Emphasis on AI Abilities over Human Look

Google once had a leading position in developing robotics. Then something changed. The AI was not advanced enough to do what execs hoped to do at a time when the company wanted robots to move like humans.

Now the company is pursuing a revitalization of its robotics program, betting on AI to make it happen, calling its revamped program “Robotics at Google.”

Google, however, will produce fewer humanoid robots and instead focus on simpler machines running powerful software, according to The New York Times.

Robotics by Google is being led by Vincent Vanhoucke.

Google went in-house to promote the new director of Robotics, Vincent Vanhoucke, who helped Google launch its ongoing AI research department. His idea was to use what Google already knew. The company decided to move away from trying to produce a robot that was mostly human in shape and functions. Google began to use designs that made robots look and act like robots.

The New York Times recently had a firsthand look at some of the technology the company has been working on.

While the machines may not be as eye-catching as humanoid robots, Google researchers believe that slightly more advanced technology gives them more potential success in the real world. The company is developing ways for these robots to learn skills on their own, like sorting through a bin of unfamiliar objects or navigating a warehouse filled with unexpected obstacles.

“Learning is actually helping us overcome the challenges of low-cost robots,” said Vikash Kumar, a Google roboticist working on a robotic arm that tosses objects into a box — he found that focusing on AI helped make the arm more precise than when only focusing on hardware.

An article by Dan Robitski in Futurism.com explained a few reasons for the new interest at Google⏤partly technical, partly internal changes.

The revival of robotics at Google demonstrates how the company’s research has continuously evolved since its founding. In 2014, former robotics director Andy Rubin left the company amidst sexual coercion allegations that only recently came to light.

Over the years, Google has bought and subsequently sold a number of startups such as Boston Dynamics and Schaf, both of which developed humanoid robots, a back-and-forth that reflects the company’s shifting focus on robots.

read more at nytimes.com