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Google buys maker of fascinating, creepy robots

Boston Dynamics' robots move like humans, four-legged animals, and one shifts its shape to fit through tight spaces

By Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service
December 14, 2013 11:36 AM ET

IDG News Service - Google has acquired Boston Dynamics, a company that builds robots that mimic the movements of humans and animals with stunning dexterity and speed.

"We are looking forward to this next chapter in robotics and in what we can accomplish as part of the Google team," Boston Dynamics co-founder Marc Raibert said via email.

Boston Dynamics is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the past six months, according to The New York Times, which first reported the news on Friday. Earlier this month, the Times reported that Google has named former Android chief Andy Rubin as the company's lead for its robotics projects.

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On its YouTube channel, Boston Dynamics has videos of its impressive robots, including WildCat, a four-legged robot designed to run fast in all terrains, Cheetah, which tops 28 miles-per-hour, and Petman, a human-like robot that balances himself as he walks, squats and does calisthenics, and simulates human physiology by controlling its temperature, humidity and sweating, according to the company.

 
Google bought robotics company Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics
Google has bought Boston Dynamics, maker of robots that mimic the movement of humans and animals
 

Other robots developed by Boston Dynamics include the insect-like Rise, which climbs vertical surfaces, and SquishBot, described as "a shape-changing chemical robot" that can move "through tight space." The company also developed the DI-Guy software tools for simulating human reactions and movements in different scenarios and events.

The company's videos, which have been viewed millions of times, often prompt viewers to comment that the robots' amazing agility and mobility also trigger in them memories of sci-fi horror stories and movies like the Terminator series, in which robots become evil and turn against humans.

"Something about Google buying Boston Dynamics reminds me of Skynet," commented a YouTube user on Saturday after viewing the WildCat video, in reference to the evil artificial intelligence computer system of the Terminator movies.

Boston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, was founded in 1992 by Raibert and colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its customers include all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. government contractors and private-sector companies.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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