Google has just purchased Boston Dynamics, a company known for building walking robots for the military. First, Amazon announces that it will launch a robotic, drone delivery service and now Google is jumping into robotics? What can this mean? Well, Google says it wants to build a robotic army for the manufacturing sector. With that being said, it leaves one to question whether this new division has plans to replace human workers in manufacturing jobs altogether.
Experts suggest that the robots would be used to automate electronic assembly and provide floor operations in manufacturing plants.
Google has been making moves in this direction for a while now. Andy Rubin was in charge of Google’s Android division but earlier this year he stepped down suddenly and was replaced by Sundar Pichai, a colleague. Rubin is now leading a new, experimental robotic division at Google charged with developing driver-less cars, computerized eyeglasses, and robotics to replace factory workers. The idea is to develop robots that can carry out the mundane tasks that factory workers currently do like assembly line work, etc. While this may seem good in theory, it obviously will signal higher unemployment rates. I would venture to say that if manufacturing is replaced, it will most likely include warehousing as well and progressively expand into other sectors eventually.
How serious is Google about this venture? Well, over the past six to seven months, Google has acquired 7 technology companies in the United States and Japan in its aim to develop its robotics army. Judging from this investment, I think this is much more than an experiment. Experts believe this is an attempt to revolutionize supply chain including factory floor and delivery services.
This is no flash in the pan. Andy Rubin is no stranger to taking his hobbies and turning them into a career. Before going to work at Apple in the 1990s, he worked for a German manufacturer as a robotics engineer. Among the companies he has recently acquired for this effort are a company of Japanese engineers who build humanoid robots and a company that has developed a computer vision system and robotic arms for loading and unloading trucks. The seven companies acquired provide the ability to build a completely dexterous robot.
Google has already began offering delivery services in a limited area, providing home delivery for companies like Target, Walgreen’s and American Outfitter in several cities like San Francisco. Undoubtedly, this effort will one day become fully automated by robotics. Imagine the day when you place an order online, a robot assembles it, inventories, pulls, packs, transports and delivers your purchases directly to your door.
“The opportunity is massive,” said Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business. “There are still people who walk around in factories and pick things up in distribution centers and work in the back rooms of grocery stores.”
Google has been somewhat tight lipped concerning their recent moves but it’s clearly apparent that the technology they are working on would impact manufacturing and logistics and since the company has been working on driver-less cars since 2009, it appears they’re getting closer to making that a reality too. Speculation about Google’s intentions has ranged from fleets of robotic taxis moving people in urban areas to automated delivery systems. The future looks bright for Google but my concern is what it will mean for America workers. Will they be left behind?
Daphne R is an experienced marketing and communications professional that provides social commentary, self-help, tips, and reports news of events that matter to African Americans.