Google has acquired 8 robotics companies in the last several months, yet there is no visible signs of how that fits into their long term strategy. Obviously its a long term play, but how will they use these companies to extend their business model? Its clear that Google is shifting its business model towards The Internet Of Things, and the Nest Thermostat (that Google also bought) and self driving cars all sort of fit into that model. But how will it fit together into a cohesive strategy?
I think Google’s new project Ara is the missing link to all of this, and nobody seems to have caught on:
Project Ara is being billed as a way to build modular smartphones, but to me it appears to be the central platform that will drive all sorts of sensors. If you can plug in different smartphone components, why limit it to smartphones? You could just as easily plug in wheels or temperature sensors or arms and now its a plug and play robotics platform, much like LEGO’s Mindstorm.
I have been kicking around the idea of digging into robotics programming as a logical extension of software development. However I have been waiting for a sign as to what Google’s strategy is before I dig into some of the open source options such as Arduino. Whats held me back is Arduino is pretty ‘down to the metal’ stuff – I don’t want to get that close to the circuit boards, I just want to develop software that move things.
With Project Ara, I think the direction is clear. Learn to build apps for a smartphone, taking advantage of native phone interfaces like the camera and the speaker. Then in the next few years, additional components will be available smart phone to extend your app, slowly morphing from a smartphone app to a robot. If you have an interest in robotics, keep an eye on Android. I think it will be the robotics platform of the future.