Taking his place is James Kuffner, an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon and long-time humaniod robotics expert.
Kuffner first came to Google to work on its self-driving car projects in 2009, though focused on other robotics research as well.
“I’ve always been interested in seeing forward-looking technology go from just an idea in a research lab to actually doing something practical and useful,” he told MIT’s Technology Review in an interview at a DARPA robotics contest last year.
Google has made it clear that it’s willing to invest in robotics. It bought Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that creates crazy mobile research robots for the military, last December. That was the ninth robotics company it had purchased in six months.
Kuffner has been working on humanoid robots for about 20 years and has published over 100 technical papers, including one about how to use a cloud-based system to help robots recognise and grasp 3D objects.
“So far robotics has been very brittle, and it’s going to take best-in-class software and hardware, and a lot of hard work to make these robots achieve the same level of performance and agility that humans and animals have,” he told MIT. “I think that’s sort of an inspiration goal and something to motivate everyone to work toward.”
What specific robotics projects Kuffner will be leading at Google remains shrouded in mystery.
When asked about why Google bought so many robotics companies, he has declined to comment.
“I know James well and honestly can’t imagine a better person for the job,” another robotics expert, Russ Tedrake, told The Wall Street Journal. “He has the vision, the passion, and the technical chops to do great things with this opportunity.”