x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Robots are the future

Google's venture into robotics might help us solve problems that we might not have envisaged yet

Ready or not, we are about to enter a new age of robotics. That’s the underlying message from Google’s recent acquisition of Boston Dynamics, a robot manufacturer responsible for creations like the Cheetah, capable of galloping past Olympic sprinters at more than 46 kilometres an hour, BigDog, that can traverse the roughest terrain while hauling loads exceeding 150kg, and the Sand Flea, a 5kg device that can leap onto the top of a three-storey building.

The announcement might make Google look like the corporate equivalent of a rich and eccentric uncle, keen to spend money on projects that would turn into reality the plots of the science fiction novels of his youth. The company has already pioneered driverless cars and balloons capable of streaming internet service into remote locations.

But while this acquisition might seem to have little practical purpose, we ought to consider the advances yielded by similar projects. The archetypal example is the moon landing, in which technologies developed by Nasa gave the rest of us smoke detectors, memory foam beds and cordless power tools. Who knows, maybe Google’s robots will even solve one of modern life’s great bugbears: improving our gadgets’ battery lives.