While Google was acquiring a string of robotics companies over the last 12 months, they were also acquiring, by association, pre-existing military contracts.
At its face, extra military support isn’t a bad thing. One of the companies Google purchased, Schaft, received $2.6 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to compete in the agency’s robotics competition, which had its qualifying rounds in December. (Schaft dominated and is the heavy favorite to win the finals next year) Another company now owned by Google, Boston Dynamics, designed a robot (Atlas) used by five of the competition’s eight teams. All Atlas bots are serviced by DARPA via a $10.8 million contract, according to the Verge.
Military funding, however, doesn’t always look good from the public’s perspective, especially, as the Verge pointed out, when it comes to robots that resemble war machines. Plus, Google doesn’t really need the money. Actually, they believe they can make more in the private sector, free of government interference.
According to the Verge, both sides are in favor of breaking existing contracts. For the final round of DARPA’s competition (where robots must perform various movements related to disaster relief), Schaft won’t use government funds. Though Boston Dynamics’ Atlas contract will remain (presumably because other companies not owned by Google use the model), DARPA is considering expanding the number of teams in the non-funded tract to allow companies using a model other than Atlas to enter.
The military may have lost some of its most promising companies — and thus any right to their technology — but splitting from Google at least allows them to spend their money (i.e. $2 billion budget) elsewhere.
“The decision by Team SCHAFT to self-fund allows DARPA to expand the competition and further develop disaster response robots. This expansion is similar to what happened after DARPA held the Virtual Robotics Challenge in June 2013, when some teams shifted resources and allowed us to increase participation. I look forward to seeing the results of efforts by our new finalists and new team,” DRC program manager Gill Pratt said in a statement.
Source | UniversityHerald