For the past few years, some of the most impressive and potentially terrifying demonstrations of advances in robotics have been coming out of a little known Google / Alphabet division internally called Replicant, although it's more widely recognized by its original name, Boston Dynamics. Google (now Alphabet) purchased the startup a few years back, but may already be looking to unload its investment over worries that the robots are terrifying more people than they impress.
Most recently, a video was shared to YouTube that showed off the capabilities of the division's latest generation Atlas robot, a humanoid bot that manages to keep its balance while walking, untethered, through bumpy and snowy forested terrain. In the same video, the Atlas also puts up with a fair amount of abuse from its makers, who shove it to the ground forcefully to demonstrate how quickly it can recover from falls and really rude engineers.
It's hard to watch that video without imagining how the cute, resilient robot would instantly be transformed into a killing machine by simply adding a few weapons to it. Really, it's not much of an exaggeration to note that an armed Atlas robot could have practically the same abilities as many of the nightmare-haunting robots from the future out of the "Terminator" movie franchise.
Google itself has always been seemingly weary of the connection in our sci-fi addled culture between advanced robotics and a robopocalypse. As soon as it acquired Boston Dynamics, which had performed some work for DARPA, the U.S. military's R&D arm, it sought to sever those ties and distance the future of its robots from the defense industry.
But according to new reporting from Bloomberg, the response to the above video made communications people at Google nervous about being associated with Boston Dynamics. At the same time, management within the monolith was also becoming concerned about how long it would take Replicant to begin generating revenues that might approach covering expenses.
Unnamed sources told Bloomberg that Toyota and Amazon are among the potential buyers for Google's robot division.
Seeing Atlas in the service of an automaker or perhaps as a courier delivering our latest online purchases makes for fewer nightmares than the thought of it winding up in the hands of a defense contractor, but then again, presumably they already have similar efforts underway.