Is Robot Lab Boston Dynamics Failing? No, but Google Has Put It Up for Sale

Leaked emails reveal questions about profitability and public perception.

Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics — the company that brought you a humanoid A.I. and a fleet of quadruped robots — reportedly wasn’t a fit with the execs at Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc.

Google is putting Boston Dynamics up for sale, according to Bloomberg. Google has owned the company since late 2013, but due to BD’s inability to put a product on the market in the last few years, Alphabet has decided to move on. The Toyota Research Institute and Amazon are on the short (and unconfirmed) list of possible buyers.

Andy Rubin, former chief of the Android division at Google, was the driving force behind Google’s robotics push. He brought in some 300 robotics engineers before leaving the company in October 2014. His departure marked the beginning of troubles at Replicant, Google’s robot division.

Allegedly, in addition to concerns over marketability, tension arose between BD and Google because BD executives were reluctant work with Google’s robot engineers in California and Tokyo. The minutes of a November 11 meeting and company emails that were published on a Google workers forum and leaked to Bloomberg Business show just how much that affected the two companies’ relationship.

“We as a startup of our size cannot spend 30-plus percent of our resources on things that take ten years,” Jonathan Rosenberg, adviser to Alphabet CEO Larry Page, said at the meeting. “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.”

The following month, it was announced that Replicant was folded into Google’s advanced research group Google X. The head of Google X, Astro Teller, allegedly told the people over at Replicant that they would be reassigned if robotics didn’t practically solve Google’s problems.

But BD was never included in that Replicant-Google X power move. In fact, Google’s PR wasn’t even comfortable with Alphabet being associated with the humanoid robotics BD was making, and it wasn’t because of the way BD employees taunted their A.I.

“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,” Courtney Hohne, the spokeswoman for Google X, wrote in a leaked email.

Later in the email, Hohne tells people to “distance X from this video,” since they “don’t want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google.”

Who knows what Boston Dynamics will do next, but we’ll be watching:

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