Alphabet Inc. (Google) to sell off Boston Dynamics

Posted on 23 Mar 2016 by Michael Cruickshank

Tech conglomerate Alphabet Inc. (formerly Google) is reportedly looking to sell off robotics company Boston Dynamics.

According to a report by Bloomberg, Alphabet is planning to sell off the company due to the fact that an internal review found that it is unlikely to generate revenue.

Boston Dynamics, a US robotics startup was acquired by Google in 2013 for a total cost of $500m.

The company attracted significant headlines and publicity for its research into robotic systems seemingly inspired by nature. These include qudrapedal robots like ‘Big Dog’ as well as a bipedal humanoid robot called ‘Atlas’.

The use case for these robots was never made explicit, however funding from DARPA suggested that they were being marketed to the military.

Nonetheless these products were far from being market-ready, and the company reportedly had no robotic systems that it could bring to market in the near-term.

This, combined reportedly with a lack of cooperation with Google’s own internal robotics teams, meant that Boston Dynamics was no longer seen a useful part of the larger Alphabet Inc.

Currently there is no indication on what price Alphabet will be asking for in the sale of this company; however several potential buyers have been identified.

These include Toyota Motor Corp and Amazon, however neither company has made comments to suggest they are specifically interested in acquiring Boston Dynamics.

Robots bad for PR

While Google/Alphabet is a keen developer of artificial intelligence (AI) software, it seems to be aware of negative public opinion towards robotics.

Boston Dynamic’s robotic demonstrators, while impressive, more often than not generated fear and scepticism among viewers rather than awe or affinity.

This may have gone some way towards the decision to sell the company, as Alphabet would not want to be closely associated with ‘creepy’ military robots.

Furthermore, a strategic move away from robotics by Alphabet may be good for the conglomerate in the medium-to-long term in order for it to be less directly associated with job losses caused by robotics.