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Google's Scattershot Robotics Division, Titan Drones Are Moving Into Google X

The robotics project, abandoned with the exit of Andy Rubin, finally finds a new home.

Boston Dynamics

Google X’s lab is welcoming two new moonshots into the fold: The company’s assemblage of futuristic robotics projects and its unit for high-altitude satellite drones.

The decision to incubate the two nebulous projects inside Google X is designed to direct them toward addressing tangible problems, according to a Google X spokesperson. The rep didn’t offer more comment.

The transition is also a sign that the structure of Alphabet, Google’s holding conglomeration of companies now in its fifth month, is still shifting.

Project Titan, the satellite drone unit born from the acquisition of Titan Aerospace last year, sits under the Access and Energy subsidiary of Alphabet. Now it’s joining the conglomerate’s other drone scheme, Project Wing, which is plotting ways to do drone delivery. Wing’s charter will expand to include communications, incorporating the Internet access efforts Titan is working on, per the Google X rep.

The robotics team is more complicated. It was formed in 2013 after a colossal wave of acquisitions led by ex-Android boss Andy Rubin. Google scooped up at least seven companies, including Boston Dynamics, which has built robots for the military since 1992. Although Google didn’t reveal much, the unit was designed to couple foundational robotics software with complex machinery meant to mirror human movements — hence the code name, Replicant, lifted from the film “Blade Runner.”

Then Rubin left Google. And with his departure, much of the direction of the robotics team fizzled. (Several deputies who worked for him followed him as well, according to multiple sources.) The robotics unit has sat within Google proper, under the temporary oversight of long-time SVP Jonathan Rosenberg.

It has been considered a logical candidate as a standalone Alphabet company, although sources said the various companies within it are still searching for a strategy. The Information reported that Alphabet CEO Larry Page tried unsuccessfully to hire Autodesk exec Carl Bass to lead it. An Alphabet rep didn’t comment.

Robotics and Project Titan will now report up to Google X boss Astro Teller along with Googlers working on Project Loon, the Internet-giving balloons; Makani, a wind energy project; and the self-driving car team, which, despite an imminent spinoff, remains in the moonshot factory.

Here is Spot, the robot Google’s Boston Dynamics introduced in February.

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