Google has slowly been amassing a collection of robotics companies. Its most recent acquisition has been of the Pentagon-funded Boston Dynamics. This innovative company has been an industry leader in robotics. Boston Dynamics has created BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat, and Atlas. Videos of those robots in action can be seen below.
It is a little scary to think of Google as a defense contractor, but that is the direction this acquisition is taking them.
Google also has been quiet about its intentions with the company, which makes things even more suspicious. Other significant robotic acquisitions include Schaft, which created the robot that took the top prize in DARPA’s Robotics Challenge Trial.
Schaft is a robot that is 216 pounds and 4.8 feet tall. In the DARPA competition, Schaft was tested on its abilities to perform everyday tasks, such as walk over uneven terrain, climb stairs, open doors, and remove debris.
The need for humanoid robots was especially evident after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. Radiation from the disaster made it difficult for people without exposure suits to help find survivors in the wreckage. The challenges included in the DARPA competition emulate conditions that robots would likely encounter in the case of a natural or man-made disaster.
Where Is Google Going With This?
Google has the world’s most capable fleet of robots, but what will it do with them? Google is likely to put the technology behind these robots into manufacturing. Google recently partnered with manufacturing firm Foxconn to increase manufacturing efficiency by improving automation. Foxconn is one of the world’s largest manufacturer known for making and assembling products for companies like Microsoft and Apple. Foxconn has been scrutinized for its poor worker conditions. Increased automation can help improve this issue by allowing Foxconn to hire fewer skilled workers who can operate the new robots which Foxconn and Google are developing.
The Effect On The U.S.
One of the major economic changes occurring in the U.S. over the last 100 years is a shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy. Manufacturing jobs have been disappearing in the U.S due to the rise in the cost of labor. The partnership between Google and Foxconn can actually help some of these jobs return to the U.S. Even if a largely autonomous factory is built, it will still need humans to oversee operations and fix broken assembly line components.
These workers will likely be well paid, because they will have to have skills that exceed those of assembly-line workers.
President Obama, in his FY2015 Budget Address, announced a proposal to create six new tech hubs. “We…have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs,” the President said. The partnership between Google and Foxconn will help make Obama’s dream a reality.
With Google’s army of robots and Foxconn’s expertise in manufacturing, revolutionary manufacturing technologies are likely to be developed in the near future. Factories could be built in the U.S. that take advantage of new production technologies. The U.S. will finally begin to regain the manufacturing jobs that were replaced by lower-wage workers elsewhere.
What do you think of Google’s fleet of robots? Do you think they would be more likely to harm or hurt the economy? Share with us by commenting below.