Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.com, coined the phrase Artificial Artificial Intelligence, and invested in human spaceflight startup Blue Origin. Now he's expanding his portfolio to include robots.
Specifically, he's investing in Heartland Robotics, a new startup that seems to be working with industrial robots. No one knows exactly what it's doing yet, and its website isn't exactly forthcoming with data—but it's definitely of interest because one of its co-founders is Rodney Brooks, the MIT robotics professor who co-founded another little robotics company you may have heard of: iRobot, maker of Roombas. Heartland just secured some $7 million in funding, part of which came directly from Bezos through his entrepreneurial investment firm Bezos Expeditions.
What exactly is going on? Neither Bezos or Heartland is saying, exactly. But there may be some mileage in the Artificial Artificial Intelligence idea—Bezos coined this to describe the AI tasks that currently defeat even advanced robotic tech, and which are actually best done by humans at this point. It's the kind of computer-to-human-to-computer task outsourcing that makes Amazon's Mechanical Turk crowdsourced marketplace tick.
Can we assume that Heartland robotics, which already describes itself as being aimed at "combining the power of computers—embodied in robots—and the extraordinary intelligence of the American workforce, to increase productivity and revitalize manufacturing" had a similar physical AAI technology that's tickled Bezo's fancy? The fact that Heartland is currently recruiting a "Lead UI Designer" and "Computer Vision Engineer" lends some weight to this thinking—a robot with an advanced UI system for human interaction, and one that used image process to a certain extent could certainly be designed to work with a human in an AAI style.
It's equally likely that we're entirely wrong about this, of course, but consider one company that would definitely benefit from smart-robotic assistance: Amazon. Its distribution centers are models for their amazing efficiency, and advanced robotics would tally with this nicely.