While Toyota’s acquisition of Google’s robotics division, Boston Dynamics, has yet to be finalized, a number of industry insiders believe the deal is imminent. If it goes through, Toyota would be one of the few automakers with a wholly-owned robotics laboratory – what a difference from the 1980’s when the company questioned widespread adoption of robotics in manufacturing. As such, let’s take a closer look at Boston Dynamics, what they do, and more importantly what Toyota’s acquisition means for the development of robotics.
Boston Dynamics’ LS3 Robot in Action 
About Boston Dynamics and What They Do
As mentioned the company is a subsidiary of Google, however, it was founded in 1992 and is considered one of the pioneers in modern robotics. Starting off as part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) building advanced robots which rely on sensor-based controls and computations to recreate movements commonly found in animals.
These include agility, dexterity, and speed and Boston Dynamics has been tasked with building research robots for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and well as the U.S. military, and for private companies such as Sony. Some of the company’s robots include BigDog – a quadruped designed for traversing rough terrain. The anthropomorphic robot, PETMAN as well as RISE, Squishbot, Altas, and RHex among others.
The company also developed a software development toolkit, DI-Guy, which enables developers to build human-like characteristics into their applications. This includes the DI-Guy Artificial Intelligence engine and DI-Guy motion editor. Whilst DI-Guy was spun off from Boston Dynamics in 2014, it has become the standard for human simulation, especially in military applications.
TRI – moving beyond gimmicks 
Toyota Research Institute
In their breakthrough book on lean manufacturing, The Machine That Changed the World, James Womack and company described in vivid detail how ‘the least automated Japanese domestic plant [surveyed] was also the most efficient [automotive] plant in the world, need[ing] half the human effort of a comparably automated European plant.’  Now, this may seem counterintuitive, but Toyota and their counterparts figured out the key to productivity was not automation, it was creativity and aggressively rooting out non-value added activities which often hid waste and increased costs.
Fast forward 25-years and the environment has changed. Robotics, manufacturing, and even transportation (e.g. ride sharing & autonomous driving) are undergoing simultaneous revolutions. Each subsequent generation of machines are more robust than the previous, and the future of robotics and automobiles are intertwined.
With that in mind, Toyota announced the opening of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) in late-2015. Since then company has been aggressively seeking out some of the brightest minds in the robotics today. Case in point is TRI’s CEO, Gill Pratt, who previously worked with Boston Dynamics founder and CEO, Marc Raibert when the pair were at MIT’s leg lab – also founded by Raibert. According to reports the company has also granted TRI a war chest of up to $1Bn to finance research and acquisitions in the field.
You can’t keep a good robot down 
What Does It Mean?
Granted the acquisition has yet to be announced, but many observers have noted Google’s robotics division has largely been rudderless since the departure of then CEO, Andy Rubin, in 2014. Part of the reason was the push by Google to shepherd research into more consumer-friendly applications, especially a commercial robot which could be deployed for home or office use by 2020 or sooner.
However, many of the companies in the robotics division, including Boston Dynamics, were more focused on research which would advance the science of robotics rather than prove to be commercially viable. The tipping point may well have been a video of Boston Dynamic’s latest robot Atlas. The 6’1” humanoid robot was seen walking in snow and even lifting boxes in a warehouse. However, many people found the video unsettling and quickly Google sought to distance itself from the video.
The sale to TRI should prove to be a better fit for the Boston Dynamics team. This is not to say Toyota is not interested in developing commercially viable robotics. But the company’s background in manufacturing and transportation and its interest in developing its own research the field should make it a better home.
While this probably means Toyota will not be releasing a home or office robot by 2020. Expect the company to focus their research on advancing robotics for manufacturing and logistics. Furthermore, the military and security applications could be extremely useful in the company’s home market, where an aging society (the average age in Japan is 46) and the constant risk of natural disaster (either from typhoon or earthquake) creates a large market for emergency service robots.
Ultimately, the acquisition will be a reunion for Raibert and Pratt – funded by Toyota’s deep pockets. As such the emphasis, at least in the beginning, will be on research and this could lead to numerous breakthroughs in the science of robotics. All of which Toyota will seek to integrate into their existing product line or through new divisions in the near future.
 Source: The Strategist.media. Toyota to become new owner of Boston Dynamics. 31 May 2016. http://goo.gl/KVIQdt. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
 Source: 24.hu. Zenét ír a mesterséges intelligencia. 27 May 2016. http://goo.gl/ku1euP. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
 Source: Womack, James P., Jones, Daniel P., and Roos, Daniel. The Machine That Changed the World. 1990. Rawson Associates. P. 94. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
 Source: Discover Magazine. Scoopnest. Boston Dynamics Atlas robot won’t be kept down. http://goo.gl/x5iZrL. Retrieved 10 June 2016.