While Boston Dynamics and its Atlas robot have dominated headlines on Alphabet’s robotics research, it’s not the only robotics company that it owns. Another Alphabet company, called Schaft, is working on a new robot, which its cofounder Auto Nakanishi, showed off at a conference in Tokyo today. This walking robot can overcome hurdles that many bipedal robots can’t when navigating through the world, IEEE Spectrum reported.
The robot, which is almost all legs and as of yet has no name, walks around with a confident strut (rather similarly to someone else with that name) and was shown able to walk up stairs with relative ease, and overcome obstacles that might trip it—something some of Boston Dynamics’ robots haven’t had the best of luck with. According to IEEE, the bot might also be able to clean things up as it walks up stairs; it’s shown to have some sort of sweeping mechanism on board, but that wasn’t confirmed.
An Alphabet spokesperson said that the Schaft team recently became part of X, Google’s “moonshot” research lab, and wanted to show off how their robot can navigate situations like stairs or slippery rocks on a beach. The spokesperson was quick to point out that this was not a product announcement, but rather a demonstration of the team’s recent work. “The team were simply delighted to have a chance to show their latest progress,” the spokesperson said.
Bloomberg recently reported that Alphabet may want to sell off Boston Dynamics, the robot company that builds human- and dog-shaped robots that featured prominently in last year’s DARPA Robotics Challenge, because some at Alphabet worried about the company’s image being affected by working on giant creepy robots.
“We’re also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans’ jobs,” an Alphabet spokesperson reportedly said in a forum post seen by Bloomberg in March. It’s not entirely clear how Schaft’s relatively diminutive leg-bots would be an image upgrade for Alphabet, but for now, Google appears to be (literally) marching forward with its robotics research, even if the future of its most high-profile robotics division is still uncertain.