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Inside Google’s Rebooted Robotics Program

A prototype of a robotic hand learning to spin a cross-shaped widget.In 2013, the company started an ambitious, flashy effort to create robots. Now, its goals are more modest, but the technology is subtly more advanced.By Cade MetzVideos by Brian Dawson and Meg FellingMarch 26, 2019MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google has quietly been retooling an ambitious but troubled robotics program that was once led by an executive who left the company amid accusations of sexual harassment. Starting in 2013, the internet company spent tens of millions of dollars buying six robotics start-ups in the United States and Japan. The project included two teams specializing in machines that…

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Bits: The Week in Tech: The Robots Aren’t as Human as They Seem

One company at the leading edge of the real world is RightHand Robotics, which is fashioning “picking” robots inside an old post office building in Somerville. Presented with a bin full of stuff, they can grab and pick up individual objects, even if they haven’t seen them before. This is just what a company like Amazon need inside its massive distribution centers.But companies like RightHand are still perfecting the art of picking. And the next task — deciding where each object should go — is even harder. Right now, RightHand is leaning on systems that scan the bar code attached to each item. Identifying items without bar…

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These Robots Run, Dance and Flip. But Are They a Business?

As the rest of the tech industry has focused on robotic cars and other contraptions that can navigate roads and warehouse floors, Boston Dynamics, which is owned by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, has plugged away at machines that can walk through the woods, into a rock quarry, across your home. “These robots can climb stairs,” said Sangbae Kim, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is working on similar machines. “They can jump on a table.”But if driverless cars are still years away from everyday use, walking robots are even further. Though these machines are shockingly lifelike, they have limits. They can…

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