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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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Social Media

Meta, Facebook Set up Team to Monitor Fake News, Hate Speech Ahead of Nigeria’s 2023 Elections

Meta noted that the monitoring team will help to identify and flag fake news and hate speeches. 

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Facebook Meta

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp disclosed it has constituted a team to monitor posts made by Nigerians ahead of the next year’s general elections.

Meta noted that the monitoring team will help to identify and flag fake news and hate speeches. 

Investors King understands that the next general election in Nigeria which comes up every four years has been scheduled to take place in February and March 2023. The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) has scheduled the Presidential and the National Assembly elections for the 23rd of February while Governorships and State House of Assembly elections will hold on the 11th of March

According to Meta, the team which has a number of Nigerians and others was put together purposely for the election. 

Addressing a press conference in Lagos on Wednesday, Meta’s Head of Public Policy for Anglophone West Africa, Adaora Ikenze noted that members that made up the team are experts in misinformation, public policy programmes, and communication. 

“The team also includes individuals with global expertise in misinformation, hate speech, elections, and disinformation. These teams are working hard to prevent any abuse of our services before, during, and after Nigeria’s 2023 general elections. Locally, we also have staff who reside in Nigeria and work in public policy, & public policy programmes, and communications,” she said. 

Adaora added that Meta has a big responsibility of keeping people safe from any danger that might come through misinformation on its platforms. She noted that the social media giant has invested hugely to reduce misinformation and harmful content on its platforms while promoting civic engagement.

“We know we have an important responsibility when it comes to helping keep people safe during the elections. Using lessons from the past including input from experts and policymakers across the national spectrum, we’ve made substantial investments in people and technology to reduce misinformation, remove harmful content on our platforms, fight voter interference and promote civic engagement during the elections”, she noted. 

Similarly, Meta added that it is working closely with all relevant election authorities and local partners in Nigeria to ensure quick identification of any potential threats before, during, and after the election. 

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Telecommunications

NCC Announces Airtel as the Sole Bidder for the Second 5G Spectrum Auction

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Airtel Financial Results - Investors King

The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) has announced Airtel Network Limited as the sole bidder for the 5G spectrum scheduled for auction on December 19, 2022.

Airtel has since deposited $27.36 million ahead of the auction.

Investors King could recall that MTN and Mafab Communication won the first 5G spectrum auction which also had Airtel as a competitor. 

According to the NCC, only two telecom companies, Airtel Africa and Standard Network & Connections Limited expressed interest in the auction as of the stipulated deadline which was Monday, December 5, 2022. 

Therefore, the NCC noted that there would be no auction as Airtel would be assigned one of the available lots of 100 MHz TDD Spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band.

Investors King understands that the $27.36 million deposit is 10 percent of the reserve price for the spectrum fixed at $273.6 million. The same price was paid by MTN and Mafab Communications before the 5G spectrum was allocated to them individually. 

MTN on its part has since launched its 5G network in some cities which include Abuja, Lagos and Ibadan. The 5G network promised to enhance connectivity and stimulate broadband penetration in Nigeria. 

NCC further stated that an extension sought by Standard Network can not be granted owing to the auction timetable which had earlier been published. 

The statement by NCC partly read “Only Airtel paid the Intention to Bid Deposit as stipulated in the Information Memorandum (IM) whereas, Standard Network sent an email appeal for the deadline to be extended by 12 working days which was not acceptable in view of the auction timetable”. 

“Having met all the provisions in the IM, Airtel has, therefore, emerged as the sole bidder. Consequently, there shall be no further bidding and the Commission will proceed to the assignment stage in line with the published Information Memorandum guiding the licensing process,” the statement added. 

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Fintech

M-Pesa Rallonge, Financial Inclusion Takes Another Step

M-Pesa Rallonge service, M-Pesa is simultaneously facilitating the process of financial inclusion for all while also improving lives for the better

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Vodacom

VodaCash, in partnership with Access Bank, launched its new service M-Pesa Rallonge this Tuesday, December 6th, 2022.  

A joint press conference was hosted at Silikin Villag before officially launching the product. Pamela Ilunga, Deputy Managing Director of Vodacom Congo, and Hashim Mukudi, Managing Director of VodaCash, were present along with Access Bank Commercial Director, Adrien Chensham Mbele.

With the M-Pesa Rallonge service, M-Pesa is simultaneously facilitating the process of financial inclusion for all while also improving lives for the better. Currently, over 20% of the daily transactions are canceled due to insufficient balance. For customers, this can be frustrating, especially in emergency situations.  

In her opening speech, Pamela Ilunga, Deputy Managing Director of Vodacom Congo, stated, “M-Pesa has been on a journey since its introduction in 2012. Undeniably, M-Pesa has been a solution to financial inclusion for the population of the DRC as well as complementing our different customers’ lifestyles. This has made us the mobile financial institution of choice.”

This partnership with Access Bank allows VodaCash to advance on its mission to provide accessible financial services to remote areas and ensure all Congolese have access to basic necessities. Initially, the focus was providing fundamental services such as domestic money transfers and the purchase of airtime. Over time, M-Pesa has expanded to include services such as forex, paying TV, and bills. 

Hashim Mukudi, Managing Director of VodaCash, also announced that “several more collaborations with M-Pesa are coming up, each tailored towards advocating inclusivity and improving customers’ lifestyles, aligning with the 2030 SDGs ‘No poverty’ and ‘reducing equality’. “

Pamela Ilunga added, “At Vodacom, we believe that ‘Together We Can’. We can make an impact on the economy. We can participate in and promote the digital revolution that is currently taking place in the DRC. M-Pesa Rallonge is only the first of several more services we are developing to improve lives and facilitate access to financial services using eco-responsible processes.”

The Deputy Managing Director of Vodacom Congo closed her speech by commending their partner, Access Bank, for sharing the same vision of “responding to the real needs of the Congolese population to financial inclusion and providing a platform that will allow its customers to use this new product.”

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