Google has been using AI and neural networks to help robotic arms to learn for quite some time now. Back in March the company published a report detailing how its software-enabled robotic arms were being taught to learn how to pick up objects by themselves, and the Mountain View company further detailed this research just last week in a blog post showing off a few more different approaches for general-purpose skill learning — like opening doors.
It’s impressive tech, but as with many of Google’s other impressive tech experiments, it seems like this one is never going to actually become a source of revenue for the company — at least not directly. The Google robotics group wanted to sell the arms to manufacturers, but that plan ultimately got turned down by Alphabet executives because they failed the “toothbrush test” (via Bloomberg)…
If you’re unaware, the “toothbrush test” is an infamous policy of Google founder Larry Page, which says that Google won’t ship products that wouldn’t feasibly be used daily by billions of people.
The decision not to sell the arms was reached sometime around the end of 2015, just before the robotics group became part of Google [X], according to the Bloomberg report:
The verdict came around the end of 2015, just before the Google robotics unit moved to X, Alphabet’s research lab. Roboticists who worked on the project voiced frustration with Google’s caution, echoing sentiment at other divisions outside Google’s core internet business, like its self-driving car unit, which display technical prowess but have yet to ship products.
Although none of this means that these robotic arms have been completely shelved at Google (they’re clearly still being used to do some great research on AI and machine learning, which Google sees as a big part of its future), this is yet another example of the company’s struggling robotics efforts. One example you may be familiar with its attempted sale of Boston Dynamics, due to a supposed lack of “marketable product” within the next few years. Toyota was reportedly interested, but nothing has come of that yet.
On a lighter note, you should watch this video of one of Google’s robotic arms being used for fun at I/O 2016: