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Google Puts Boston Dynamics Up for Sale in Robotics Retreat

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A logo is pictured at Google's European Engineering Center in Zurich

The video, published to YouTube on Feb. 23, was awe-inspiring and scary. A two-legged humanoid robot trudges through the snow, somehow maintaining its balance. Another robot with two arms and pads for hands crouches down and lifts a brown box and delicately places it on a shelf — then somehow stays upright while a human tries to push it over with a hockey stick. A third robot topples over and clambers back to its feet with ease.

Tens of millions of people viewed the video over the next few weeks. Google and the division responsible for the video, Boston Dynamics, were seemingly pushing the frontier in robot technology.

But behind the scenes a more pedestrian drama was playing out. 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.

Robotics Push

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.”

‘Brick Wall’

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.

Distancing Google

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.

Bloomberg

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Telecoms ‘Will be The Fastest Growing African Business Sector’

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The telecoms sector will be the fastest-growing industry in Africa over the next five years as internet connectivity improves, new research with business leaders for blockchain-based mobile network operator World Mobile shows.

When asked to pick the three sectors that they believe will see the strongest growth over the next five years, three out of four (75%) senior executives selected telecoms in the study.

It was comfortably ahead of the healthcare sector which emerged as the second choice selected by 61% of survey respondents as one of three industries that will see the strongest growth ahead of tourism at 44%

Senior executives at companies with combined annual revenues of more than $6.75 billion based in Tanzania, Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa were interviewed for the study.

Improvement in internet connectivity was identified as central to growth in the economy and across all sectors. Around two-thirds (66%) say it is important while 20% believe it is very important. The table below shows which sectors senior business executives believe will be the fastest-growing over the next five years.

SECTOR HOW MANY EXECUTIVES BELIEVE IT WILL BE ONE OF THE TOP THREE FASTEST GROWING SECTORS IN AFRICA OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS
Telecoms 75%
Healthcare 61%
Tourism 44%
Financial services 36%
Retail 36%
Manufacturing 22%
Education 22%

World Mobile is helping to revolutionise internet connectivity in sub-Saharan Africa and is already working with the government in Zanzibar where it is launching a unique hybrid mobile network delivering connectivity supported by low altitude platform balloons.

Its blockchain-based network vastly reduces capital expenditure and cuts costs compared to traditional telecom operators. World Mobile is in discussions to expand in Tanzania and Kenya, as well as other territories underserviced by traditional mobile operators.

Micky Watkins, CEO of World Mobile said: “The expansion of telecoms across the African continent is central to driving economic growth and senior business executives clearly agree as they rank it well ahead of other major sectors of the economy.”

“To a great extent, growth in telecoms spurs growth in other sectors as societies become more digital and technology focused and that applies very much to financial services, healthcare, retail and education.”

“Not all parts of Africa however have strong internet connectivity and we want to help by providing a service which is affordable and reliable and look forward to working with governments across the continent.”

World Mobile’s balloons will be the first to officially launch in Africa for commercial use, offering a more cost-effective way to provide digital connection to people and is the first step in its mission to help bring nearly four billion people online before 2030 in line with the UN and World Bank’s SDGs.

The World Mobile approach is more sustainable, in environmental, social and governance terms. Environmental impacts are mitigated using solar-powered nodes, second-life batteries, and energy-efficient technology. World Mobile creates a positive societal impact through the application of its circular economy model – a “sharing economy” where locals share in the ownership and rewards of the network.

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Financial Inclusion: ZirooPay Targets Deeper Mobile POS Penetration in Nigeria

Nigeria’s retail Point-of-Sale solution provider, ZirooPay has embarked on an aggressive drive to deepen the penetration of its unique mobile POS assets.

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Omoniyi Olawale

In a bid to boost market share while driving financial inclusion by penetrating the underbanked market through its proprietary mobile POS technology, Nigeria’s retail Point-of-Sale solution provider, ZirooPay has embarked on an aggressive drive to deepen the penetration of its unique mobile POS assets.

Over the next months, ZirooPay hopes to grow its network of mobile POS around Nigeria by adding no fewer than 20,000 mobile POS, on the heels of a successful funding round, which has positioned it to tap into the growing opportunities in Africa’s retail sector.

Recall that ZirooPay is reputed for a patent of a unique and efficient mobile POS technology that enables small businesses to process card payments in real-time, even when there is no internet/data connection, strategically positioning it to drive financial inclusion in a country that has achieved only 63 per cent financial inclusion and 33.6 per cent of broadband penetration.

ZirooPay’s payments solution is fast, simple and reliable, delivering a 95 per cent transaction success rate for POS transactions compared to the industry’s average of 25 – 50 per cent.  The solution leverages its unique and patented internet-free technology, to enable SMEs (across the retail, agency banking, hospitality and services sectors) to process in-person payments, track their sales, and manage their businesses from their mobile devices.

Beyond payments, ZirooPay also provides merchants with automated sales history, sales analytics, and inventory tracking to help them monitor and manage their businesses more efficiently. ZirooPay’s superior transaction success rate and the integrated nature of its service stand it out from the competition.

The payment provider, which started operations in Nigeria in 2019, has organically grown to 15,000 merchants processing over $500m in 10m transactions and looks to replicate this success across Africa.

Speaking recently, the Chief Executive Officer, CEO of ZirooPay, Omoniyi Olawale said this is part of several initiatives aimed at empowering more SMEs to take effective control of their businesses, adding that the firm is committed to deepening access to ZirooPay’s invaluable payment services for all sizes of retail business both in rural and urban centres in Africa.

He explained that innovative payment solutions such as ZirooPay will remain an imperative as wholesale and retail sectors continue to dominate Africa’s contribution to its GDP, even as population growth and rapid urbanisation continue to drive consumption across the continent.

He said, “ZirooPay has set out to build an operating system for retail in Africa by providing solutions that not only drive financial inclusion but also support the payment infrastructure needed for retail to thrive on the continent. Lack of reliable payment technology for the continent remains one of the major challenges that has hindered trade tremendously and ZirooPay Mobile POS solution will address this challenge.”

According to Omoniyi, while it is still early days for payments in Africa, ZirooPay understands the peculiarities of the continent’s infrastructure challenges and would continue to advance similar innovative solutions that will address the payment challenge on the continent on a sustainable basis.

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Nigeria Approves Microsoft Agreement, Others to Accelerate 5G Deployment

In a move to accelerate the deployment of 5G services, the Federal Government has approved Enterprise Licensing Agreement for Microsoft products and clearing up of the C-band spectrum.

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In a move to accelerate the deployment of 5G services, the Federal Government has approved Enterprise Licensing Agreement for Microsoft products and clearing up of the C-band spectrum.

The approval was after Isa Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy presented three memos to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on June 29, 2022.

Femi Adeluyi, the Technical Assistant (Research and Development) to the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, disclosed in a statement issued after the approval.

The Government-wide Enterprise Licensing Agreement for Microsoft products will help reduce the cost of information technology projects, while the C-band migration is expected to aid the deployment of the 5G network.

Explaining the benefits of the agreements, Adeluyi said “The Agreement will give the government access to discounted prices and other cost benefits, as well as reduce project duplication across Federal Public Institutions (FPIs).

“It will also guarantee proper technical support for Microsoft products and services, thereby ensuring protection against cybersecurity threats, which will guarantee availability and reliability of government IT services.

“The Enterprise Licensing Agreement will provide a projected savings of a minimum of 35% of Governments current investment in Microsoft Products and Services.

“This will not only substantially reduce the cost of license procurement for FPIs, it will reduce and simplify licensing complexity, facilitate accounting and cash flow predictability and monitor utilisation and impact of Government investment.”

The statement added that the Federal Executive Council has directed all Federal Public Institutions to start taking advantage of the agreement by using Microsoft licenses and services.

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