Google believes in moonshots and the philosophy of “10x.”
Instead of incremental changes, the company aims to to work on projects that deliver 10 times the impact any other technologies or products out there.
But Business Insider recently heard one anecdote that demonstrates a potential dark side to that focus.
While talking about the current state of flux within Google’s robotics division, one person who used to work at one of the ~9 robotics companies that Google acquired said that Amazon was also eyeing the business before the search giant officially sealed the deal.
That person would ultimately end up wishing that Google hadn’t won the bidding war.
“Google seems more aimed at a moonshot while Amazon is building a ladder to the moon,” the person said, frustrated by the idea that if Amazon had acquired the company, the technology would likely already be loose in one of the ecommerce giant’s fulfillment centres, instead of plodding along in R&D.
Founded nearly two years ago, Google’s robotics division — called “Replicant” internally — originally aimed to “launch a suite of 1.0 products that will be the foundation for future consumer products that interact with the physical world” before 2020.
But now, with Replicant’s founder, Andy Rubin, out of the company, sources tell Business Insider that the effort lacks focus.
Although Replicant continues to work on a lot of “incredible” robotics related technology, and is making strides in machine learning and computer vision outside of that division, the source’s point is that they believe that the technology would actually be in use had Amazon bought the startup.
Currently, the ecommerce giant has deployed 30,000 robots to zip around 13 of its fulfillment centres, where it stores and ships products to consumers. And just recently, Amazon’s robotics group asked the FCC to test special new wireless equipment to improve the safety of its fulfillment center robots.
While Google’s team conducts research and experiments aimed at creating some sort of consumer-facing, general-purpose robot, Amazon is putting robots into its manufacturing centres.
In a promotional video on its Amazon Robotics website, the company highlights the immediacy of its robotics efforts.
“The amazing thing about working at Amazon Robotics is writing code that you can literally see come to life inside an Amazon fulfillment center,” one woman says on camera.
“When you hear the term ‘advanced robotics’ you think of something out of science fiction or the Jetsons — something overly complicated or not actually practical,” another man adds. “But here it’s actually just the opposite. We’re using robotics to solve complicated, real-world challenges with solutions that are incredibly simple and highly functional.”
Is making robots that help people get stuff that they buy online as inspiring as working on technology that could potentially interact with normal people on a daily basis?
Maybe not. But one robotics system is actually in the wild now, while the other isn’t. And that, in a nutshell, sums up both the pros and cons of Google’s gospel of 10x.
In the past, current and former Googlers have highlighted other examples of “moonshot” thinking being applied with poor results, including with Google Glass and Google Plus.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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