In the field of robotic research and development, there is one question that I really want the answer to: What is Google doing? There are so many different stories online regarding the company’s secret development work in the field of robotics, and many of those seem to be scare stories. I guess scare stories attract more attention than nice stories, so the minimal facts that actually are known, are twisted to sell more newspapers or magazines, or get more hits on a website. Here are just a few recent examples:
“Google could be building an army of robots. We already know that Google dominates the online space; but are they trying to take over the physical world too? This week Google received a US patent* allowing them to use the cloud to control armies of robots.”
The New Daily, May 15th, 2015
“Google has patented the ability to control a robot army. After getting a patent for giving robots personalities last month, Google now wants to unleash an army of Rodney Dangerfield bots on the world.”
Quartz, 14th April, 2015
“Is Google building a robot army? Google has been awarded a patent for a system that would allow it to issue instructions to robotic devices en masse … giving rise to speculation that the company is building a robot army.”
The Telegraph, 15th April, 2015
*So what does this new United States Patent actually say? Here is a little taster:
“Date of Patent: April 14, 2015. Systems and methods for allocating tasks to a plurality of robotic devices. Abstract: Methods and systems for allocating tasks to robotic devices are provided. An example method includes receiving information associated with task logs for a plurality of robotic devices and in a computing system configured to access a processor and memory, determining information associated with a health level for the plurality of robotic devices based on the information associated with the task logs. A health level for a given robotic device may be proportional to a current level of ability to perform a function, which may change over a lifespan of the given robotic device. Information associated with a plurality of tasks to be performed by one or more or the robotic devices may also be determined. According to the method, the computing system may optimise an allocation of the plurality of tasks such that a high precision task may be allocated to a robotic device having a greater current health level than another robotic device.”
The full patent may be seen online here: CLICK HERE
If Google is planning to release a home robot (and I’m certain that they are), then it is sensible that system updates be sent via the Cloud. At night, when our robots are being recharged ready for their next day’s work, they can be updated from Google HQ with the latest improvements. They may learn new techniques, and more important than that, they could have security updates installed to avoid the possibility that they might be hacked. Imagine if a criminal could have access to your home robot, a burglar could check through the eyes of the robot whether there is anything of value in your home. The robot could even be ‘persuaded’ to become the burglar’s assistant, even helping to carry your valuables out to the getaway car!
My Apple computer has regular security updates which are downloaded. I don’t have to accept them, just as I’m sure I would not have to accept them for my robot, but I do think it would be advisable.
If there was a typical James Bond type villain at the head of Google then certainly they would be building a robot army to take over the world. Somehow I think that is unlikely.