Google Joins The Military-Industrial Complex

The search giant buys a military robotics contractor. “Don’t be evil” meets the Department of Defense.

Tyrone Siu / Reuters

Google has acquired Boston Dynamics, creator of the BigDog, CHEETAH, and PETMAN robots, according the the New York Times. The purchase is Google’s latest investment in advanced robotics — a new priority for the search company and one that it has recently added to its list of “moonshot” initiatives.

Boston Dynamics represents a new type of acquisition for Google. It is best known for projects that were carried out under military contracts, such as the tottering BigDog robot, a demonstration of which went viral in 2008:

BigDog’s development was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is part of the Department of Defense. Boston Dynamics’ other DARPA-funded projects include:

- CHEETAH, a four-legged robot that holds a land speed record
- PETMAN, a bipedal, humanoid robot that walks convincingly like a person
- RiSE, a wall-climbing bot
- Atlas, a Terminator-esque successor to the PETMAN

The substance of the DARPA contracts varies. BigDog, for example, was designed to assist soldiers in carrying supplies over difficult terrain. Atlas is being engineered as part of a DARPA challenge “to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters.”

Google has not laid out its intentions for Boston Dynamics, nor has it disclosed a purchase price. The company says it will honor current military contracts, but that it does not currently “plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own.” Still, the acquisition may draw suspicion from critics who have suggested that Google is straying from its iconic mission statement — particularly in light of its continued appearance in the ongoing NSA disclosures, and rekindled questions about its privacy policies.

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