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Alphabet May Sell Famed Robotics Firm Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics, which Google bought in 2013, could be acquired by Toyota or Amazon, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Alphabet May Sell Famed Robotics Firm Boston Dynamics
[Photo: via Wikipedia]

Google parent company Alphabet is allegedly putting Boston Dynamics, the robotics company behind the humanoid robot Atlas, up for sale, Bloomberg reports. Acquired by Google in 2013, Boston Dynamics may be scooped up by Toyota or Amazon, sources told Bloomberg.

Based on information from its sources, Bloomberg offers a fairly simplistic reason for why execs allegedly want to distance Alphabet from Boston Dynamics. "Executives at Google parent Alphabet Inc., absorbed with making sure all the various companies under its corporate umbrella have plans to generate real revenue, concluded that Boston Dynamics isn’t likely to produce a marketable product in the next few years and have put the unit up for sale, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans," Bloomberg wrote.

But for a tech behemoth like Alphabet—one that has devoted an entire company to pursuing pie-in-the-sky ideas—it seems strange that profitability would be the primary issue.

The more likely story may have been that, as Bloomberg reveals, Boston Dynamics execs weren't keen on collaborating with the engineers working in Google's robotics unit, Replicant. The minutes from a meeting held in November, leaked to an internal online forum, offer an inside look at the tension felt on both ends. From Bloomberg:

The November meeting was run by Jonathan Rosenberg, an adviser to Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page and former Google senior vice president, who was temporarily in charge of the Replicant group. In the meeting, Rosenberg said, "we as a startup of our size cannot spend 30-plus percent of our resources on things that take ten years," and that "there’s some time frame that we need to be generating an amount of revenue that covers expenses and (that) needs to be a few years."

Aaron Edsinger, director of robotics at Google in San Francisco, said that he had been trying to work with Boston Dynamics to create a low-cost electric quadruped robot and felt "a bit of a brick wall" around the division, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Marc Raibert, a former MIT professor and the founder of Boston Dynamics, said that "I firmly believe the only way to get to a product is through the work we are doing in Boston. (I) don’t think we are the pie in the sky guys as much as everyone thinks we are," the minutes show.

Bloomberg also disclosed that the recent release of a video showing off Atlas's capabilities made Alphabet's PR executives uneasy. "There’s excitement from the tech press, but we’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs," Google communications director Courtney Hohne wrote in internal emails.

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