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Google robotics toolbox stocked by purchases

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — Google may be gearing up to build robots that resemble props in science-fiction movies as the ambitious Internet company expands into yet another technological frontier.

To gather the expertise and research it needs, Google has purchased eight companies that specialize in robotics this year. The acquisitions are being assembled into a robotics division headed by Andy Rubin, who oversaw Google's development of Android, now the world's leading mobile operating system.

Google Inc. added more pieces to its growing toolbox of robotics late last week with the purchase of Boston Dynamics, a military contractor that has raised intrigue by releasing videos of its inventions in recent years. Those inventions include a four-legged robot capable of galloping past Olympian sprinters and a jumping contraption that can leap onto tall buildings. Another video of a creepy-looking four-footed machine has been watched more than 15 million times since it was posted on Google's YouTube site five years ago.

Besides designing animal-like robots, Boston Dynamics has been working on humanoids as part of a $10.8 million contract with the government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Boston Dynamics' links to the military has inspired comparisons of its work with the ruthless cyborgs that overthrew humans in the “Terminator” movies. Founded in 1992 by former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Marc Raibert, Boston Dynamics says it is dedicating to “changing your idea of what robots can do.”

Google confirmed the Boston Dynamics purchase on Monday. Rubin evidently views the Waltham, Mass., company's technology as a key to Google's robotics plans. “The future is looking awesome,” Rubin wrote about the acquisition on his Twitter account on Friday.

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