Google's robots group is getting a reboot

Sergey BrinGetty Images / Justin SullivanGoogle cofounder Sergey Brin

Google’s robotics team will be folded into the Google X experimental labs, in what appears to be a reboot of one of the company’s most ambitious, but unfocused, efforts.

The robotics group, which is known internally as Replicant, as well as Titan Aerospace, a solar-powered drone group that Google acquired in 2014, will both become part of Google X, a company spokesperson told Business Insider on Friday. News of the change was first reported by Re/code.

Google X is the secretive lab in charge of developing “moonshots” such as self-driving cars and airborne wind turbines. It operates as a standalone company under the umbrella of parent company Alphabet, following Google’s restructuring earlier this year.

There were reports that Google’s robots group might become a standalone Alphabet company. But the group, which is a basically a collection of disparate robotics companies that Google acquired, has been rudderless since the team’s first leader Andy Rubin left Google in 2014. Google has been trying to hire a new boss for the group with little success.

The decision to fold the robot group into X suggests that the company determined the effort was not ready to operate as a standalone business yet.

According to one person with knowledge of the matter, the move will help refocus the group, by looking at all the work they have done so far, defining specific real-world problems in which robotics technology could help, and creating “moonshot” efforts based on all that.

The move could give the robotics group the leadership and focus it has needed since Rubin left. But it also appears to be an acknowledgment that the previous gameplan, which Business Insider reported was focused on creating consumer robot technology by 2020, has been abandoned.

One big question is whether the various robotics experts from the companies that Google acquired, including Boston Dynamics and Redwood Robotics, will hang around.

Titan Aerospace, meanwhile, is being merged with Google’s other drone effort, Project Wing, with both also operating under the Google X umbrella. While Wing was previously focused on package delivery, similar to Amazon’s Prime Air efforts, it will now also focus on communications services, according to the source.

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