In 2013, Google announced that they have acquired Boston Dynamics, the military robot maker. They were then given $42 million in Pentagon funding in order to develop autonomous machine mules. However, the group has been unable to develop anything good and the Pentagon has pulled the plug on their funding stream.
Legged Squad Support System or LS3
The Pentagon had paid $32 million to Google’s robotics program in order for them to develop the LS3, which would be used by the US Marine Corps. The LS3 was supposed to be a four legged robot that could carry equipment and respond to verbal commands, essentially taking some of the heavy lifting out of the hands of the troops.
LS3 is a rough-terrain robot designed to go anywhere Marines and Soldiers go on foot, helping carry their load. Each LS3 carries up to 400 lbs of gear and enough fuel for a 20-mile mission lasting 24 hours. LS3 automatically follows its leader using computer vision, so it does not need a dedicated driver.
While the idea behind the robot was celebrated, it never did truly take off. Marines saw the machine exactly for what it was: a noisy robot. And while a noisy robot may be able to carry a lot of weight, it will also give away their position.
So, the Pentagon decided to pay another $10 million to Boston Dynamics, hoping that they could create something better. And they did, in the form of Spot the Robot Dog.
Spot is an alternative to military dogs, poking ahead of troops into houses or around corners. The 160-pound robot is battery-powered and remotely controlled, with the operator as far as 1,600 feet away. It sees through a spinning camera mounted where its head should be, and, after scanning a room, it can crouch down to get out of the way of troops storming in.
Spot, unfortunately, is only able to carry 40 pounds. This meant that it didn’t really have any usage in terms of helping the marines. Plus, it required direct controller piloting, so it wasn’t autonomous enough. This was another F for Fail for Alphabet, in other words. Interestingly, however, judging from Olson, the project leader‘s words, they do not see it as a failure at all.
We tend to play with things that are fanciful and strange. Learning from it was a big part, and we’re still learning.
Alphabet has a number of ‘other bets’ and LS3 is just one of their many disappointments. Previous failings include Glass, a wearable device, and Nexus 7, a partner product. Designs were poor, the public saw them as intrusive spyware, hardware failed and the software was full of bugs.
Of course, Google has invested more in this project than the money used to acquire Boston Dynamics. They also had to purchase Nest, through which they wanted to sell smoke detectors and thermostats, both of which have defective designs. Another failing is Motorola Mobility, which cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Next Android
In 2013, the head of the Android operating system in Google was Andy Rubin. He was replaced by Sundar Pichai, who previously ran the Google Chrome initiative. Pichai is no the chief executive.
The first thing Pichai did was get rid of a number of Andy’s Android initiatives, including a Google TV box. His focus was on Chrome, including the Chromecast TV dongle. Andy, meanwhile, moved on to the Google X group and it wasn’t much later that the announcement came that they had purchased Boston Dynamics.
Interestingly, shortly thereafter, Andy launched a different startup himself. Chrome also didn’t turn out to be hugely successful. This meant some disarray existed, as the Android software was openly licensed and Google had to find a way to leverage this.
Still, the failings kept on coming. The Pixel was just the latest catastrophic situation. Basically an unusable tablet that had incomplete and unfinished features was launched and Chrome really did die an early death. This meant that Google had to salvage what they could, while at the same time fending off Oracle, who have sued them over their Java APIs and GPL copyleft terms.
The Java issue is a significant problem. Google has now stated that their new Android version will be a full replacement of the Java APIs, as it will include OpenJDK, which is owned by Android itself. This means that Android N may just become exciting. However, considering that Apple is doing things such as OS X, tvOS and watchOS, Google has some serious catching up to do.
The majority of profits for Google continue to come from their search facilities. Google has been trying for a decade to really expand into something else, which included Android and Chrome and now robotics and more. They have had some small successes, but their list of failings is a lot larger, unfortunately. Yet, interestingly, investors continue to love Google and its potential.
Apple, on the other hand, started their own TV business in 2013 with almost no investment money. Today, this is a billion dollar venture. The same venture introduced Apple Watch, which is now a $7 billion business. Their wearable products are incredibly popular and Google hasn’t even been able to venture into it. It seems that Apple is everything Alphabet wants to be: an entity that can run a business and develop new products at the same time.
With regards to Apple, we can see that they don’t just develop tablets, they actually sell them. Apple has also been working on robots and their production has been a lot more productive. They have actually shown a return on investment, rather than effectively flushing the Pentagon’s money down the drain.
Best of all, Apple has taken ideas from Google and improved on them. Some say that they have actually stolen those ideas, although this is questionable. A good example is Google Maps.
Apple Maps has made big strides in taking market share from Google Maps. It now boasts 35 million users, which is a strong number for such a new product.
Alphabet is under serious pressure. They will soon have to show some successes that their investors actually like. In other words, they must create some projects that actually pay some money. It is unlikely that Google will be able to continue to earn as much revenue through searches alone. After all, mobile internet (and apps, by default) is rising, and information is now being shared through social media. Google’s attempt at social media, Google+, also wasn’t the greatest of successes, with very few people actually using it other than in an attempt to gain greater online authority.