20-03-2016, 16:40 #1
[EN] Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat
Possible acquirers include Toyota and Amazon.
Brad Stone and Jack Clark
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.
Possible acquirers include the Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com Inc., which makes robots for its fulfillment centers, according to one person. Google and Toyota declined to comment, and Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Google acquired Boston Dynamics in late 2013 as part of a spree of acquisitions in the field of robotics. The deals were spearheaded by Andy Rubin, former chief of the Android division, and brought about 300 robotics engineers into Google. Rubin left the company in October 2014. Over the following year, the robot initiative, dubbed Replicant, was plagued by leadership changes, failures to collaborate between companies and an unsuccessful effort to recruit a new leader.
At the heart of Replicant’s trouble, said a person familiar with the group, was a reluctance by Boston Dynamics executives to work with Google’s other robot engineers in California and Tokyo and the unit’s failure to come up with products that could be released in the near term.
Tensions between Boston Dynamics and the rest of the Replicant group spilled into open view within Google, when written minutes of a Nov. 11 meeting and several subsequent e-mails were inadvertently published to an online forum that was accessible to other Google workers. These documents were made available to Bloomberg News by a Google employee who spotted them.
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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 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.
Raibert didn’t respond to multiple messages seeking comment for this story.
Part of the challenge was that Alphabet, created in 2015, was geared toward making Google inviting to startup founders and entrepreneurial executives who wanted to join companies driving toward products and revenue, which could increase shareholder value for those subsidiaries. Page wanted to invite top-tier engineers to join the companies within Alphabet and entice them with equity.
In December, Google announced that Replicant had been folded into Google’s advanced research group, Google X. In a private all-hands meeting around that time, Astro Teller, the head of Google X, told Replicant employees that if robotics aren’t the practical solution to problems that Google was trying to solve, they would be reassigned to work on other things, according to a person who was at that meeting.
Boston Dynamics, though, was never folded into Google X and was instead put up for sale. After the division’s latest robot video was posted to YouTube, in February, Google’s public-relations team expressed discomfort that Alphabet would be associated with a push into humanoid robotics. Their subsequent e-mails were also published to the internal online forum and became visible to all Google employees.
“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,” wrote Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X.
Hohne went on to ask her colleagues to “distance X from this video,” and wrote, “we don’t want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google.”
“We’re not going to comment on this video because there’s really not a lot we can add, and we don’t want to answer most of the Qs it triggers,” she wrote.
Última edição por 5ms; 20-03-2016 às 16:44.
20-03-2016, 16:50 #2
Why Google Wants to Sell Its Robots: Reality Is Hard
Boston Dynamics’s creations were not quite as advanced as people assumed.
It’s been a week of extremes for Google’s artificial intelligence efforts, as the company luxuriates in the afterglow of winning a board game tournament against one of the world’s top players, while it privately tries to sell one of its most visible robotics efforts.
Google’s decision to try to shed its Boston Dynamics robotics group highlights a fundamental research problem: software is far easier to develop and test than hardware. That’s especially true when dealing with artificial intelligence and robotics.
Today’s industrial robots tend to be dumb machines, operating on pre-programmed routines, and are housed in metal cages to stop people walking into their zone of movement and potentially getting harmed. With Boston Dynamics, Google was working on machines that could break out of the rigid confines of the factory and perform a broader range of tasks. That requires dealing with a range of unsolved problems, requiring fundamental research.
The challenges were apparent in an internal meeting held by Google’s robotics leaders in November. According to meeting minutes seen by Bloomberg, executives discussed the viability of AI techniques like teaching robots to do physical tasks, and how the Boston Dynamics group needed to collaborate more with other Google teams. They planned to grapple with larger questions as well: the division’s leader, Jonathan Rosenberg, said the company needed "to have a debate on hydraulics." Google declined to comment. At Google, as in the rest of the industry, there is much excitement about the potential for smart machines-- but still a lot of questions about how, exactly, to build them.
On Feb. 23, Boston Dynamics published a video showing off how their robots could stalk, run, walk and stack boxes. Tens of millions of people viewed it, exhilarated over the prospect of what artificial intelligence could accomplish.
But Boston Dynamics’s creations were not quite as advanced as people assumed. The main problem the company had solved was getting its machines to move in a realistic manner, said a person familiar with the company’s technology, but full autonomy is far away. Marc Raibert, the founder of Boston Dynamics, said as much in an interview with IEEE Spectrum in February, when he acknowledged that in the videos, a human steered the robot via radio during its outside strolls. Indoors, though the robot could stack boxes autonomously, someone had to set it up and tell it to start, he said.
A robot can’t decide to go for a walk on its own, said Rodney Brooks, an artificial intelligence pioneer and founder of Rethink Robotics, "It doesn’t have the intent a dog has." (Rethink makes factory robots that don’t need cages, and can detect big changes in their work environment. "Is that scientifically hard? No. People in labs would have done that 20 years ago," said Brooks. "But it’s gotta work 100 percent of the time.")
Giving a machine intention is a difficult challenge. Software programmers can simulate the problem they’re trying to solve on computers, and progress doesn’t depend on physical movement--it’s about how fast a computer can simulate those movements.
Google’s DeepMind AI software played hundreds of thousands of rounds of the board game Go in a matter of months. It would take a lot longer to test drive robots taking hundreds of thousands of walks in the woods.
To develop robots, you have two options: You can either simulate an environment and robot with software and hope the results are accurate enough that you can load it into a machine and watch it walk. Or you can skip the simulation and tinker directly on a robot, hoping you can learn things from the real world-- but that’s awfully slow.
Google faces this problem with its self-driving cars, and it tests them both ways. It has real cars drive a few thousand miles a week on real roads, and at the same time it simulates millions of miles a week driven by virtual cars on virtual roads. The idea is that the simulator can test out different scenarios to see how the cars react, and the real world can give Google data -- and problems -- that virtual cars don’t encounter. One time, a car confronted a man in a wheelchair chasing a turkey with a broom. This was not something Google had simulated.
The problem with robots is that they tend to be more advanced than cars. Instead of wheels, you have legs-- and arms, necks, knee joints, and fingers. Simulating all of that accurately can be extremely difficult, but testing out all the different ways you can move the machine in flesh-and-blood reality takes years.
"Rosie the robot, you can’t have it knock over your furniture a hundred thousand times to learn," said Gary Marcus, chief executive officer of a startup AI company called Geometric Intelligence.
Sergey Levine recently worked on a project to tackle this problem at Google. The company programmed 14 robotic arms to spend 3,000 hours learning to pick up different items, teaching each other as they went. The project was a success, but it took months, and it used robot arms rather than an entire body.
"In order to make AI work in the real world and handle all the diversity and complexity of realistic environments, we will need to think about how to get robots to learn continuously and for a long time, perhaps in cooperation with other robots," said Levine. That’s probably the only way to get robots who can handle the randomness of everyday tasks.
Boston Dynamics’s robots need technology that doesn’t exist yet. The software to control them and give them autonomy is still a research problem being worked on by universities around the world. This is likely why Google thought it would take a decade to develop Boston Dynamics’s technology into a commercial product.
Possible acquirers include the Toyota Research Institute, a division of Toyota Motor Corp., and Amazon.com Inc., which makes robots for its fulfillment centers, according to a person familiar with Google’s plans. Toyota declined to comment, and Amazon didn’t respond to requests for comment.
It’s rare to see a company to build a product that requires such fundamental research in a number of areas, said John Schulman, a researcher with AI group OpenAI. "Having a humanoid robot that goes around and does interesting things in the real world, like maybe cleans up your house, that’s just way beyond the current state of the science."
20-03-2016, 16:53 #3
"As ever, Google’s presence in the press is wildly out of all proportion to its actual size."
MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett comentando a fanfarra da imprensa sobre o Google Fiber
BTW a imprensa alugada disparou outra fanfarrinha ... que foi desmentida.
If you’re keeping score, it’s been a good month for Google and especially the new head of its cloud business Diane Greene. High profile clients like Spotify and Apple would certainly make it more attractive to other enterprise customers. Google’s Cloud Platform may have the power of Google’s data center technology behind it, but that hasn’t yet helped the company in competing against AWS and Microsoft’s Azure platform.Apple not moving to Google Cloud Platform, still an AWS customer, says Amazon
Apple continues to use Amazon Web Services and hasn't shifted its iCloud to Google Cloud Platform, says Amazon. The company also denied losing Apple as its Web Services client.
Amazon chose to contest the widely circulating report that Apple has cut down on its reliance on Amazon Web Services in favor of competing Google’s Cloud Platform.
“It’s kind of a puzzler to us because vendors who understand doing business with enterprises respect NDAs with their customers and don’t imply competitive defection where it doesn’t exist,” revealed Amazon in a statement released to TechCrunch.
Word doing the rounds in the tech circle so far has been claiming a huge success for Google in weaning away Apple to shift part of its iCloud and services data to Google’s cloud infrastructure. Google’s cloud platform powered by its data center technology has so far been playing sort of second fiddle to the likes of AWS or Microsoft’s Azure.
Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak recently estimated Apple pays about a billion dollar a year to Amazon for using its cloud infrastructure. Worth mentioning, Amazon has lost two high-profile clients, Dropbox, and Spotify in recent times. Of the two, while Spotify has shifted to Google, Dropbox has begun operating out of its own data center.
Google has been aggressively pushing adoption of its cloud platform claiming a cost benefit to the tune of 15 to 41 percent in the process over competing platforms. The California-based search giant is keen to shrug off its status as a distant third player behind Amazon and Microsoft.
While Apple and Google have been maintaining a studied silence on the issue so far, analysts claimed the move could have been an attempt on the part of Apple to diversify its cloud services to another platform instead of having a heavy reliance on Amazon’s cloud setup.
The deal was estimated to have been worth anywhere between $400 million to $600 and was being considered to be a huge coup of sorts on the part of Diane Greene, Google’s newly appointed head of its cloud business.
In any case, Apple already is in the process of developing world-class data centers in Ireland, Denmark, Reno, and Arizona besides expanding the scope of its existing data center in Prineville, Oregon. Apple had earlier stated its investment in Arizona is among the largest it has made and will serve as the command center for its global data network.
Última edição por 5ms; 20-03-2016 às 17:05.