The term “cloud robotics” was first coined in 2010 by James Kuffner, who was working at Google at the time. Google has since teased various cloud robotics efforts, but it appears the Mountain View, the Calif.-based tech giant is going full-bore in 2019 with the launch of the Google Cloud Robotics Platform for developers.
Details are somewhat scarce at the moment, but check out the video below and the Google Cloud Robotics Platform website for a glimpse at what the platform is all about. The Robot Report reached out to Google Cloud for more information but has yet to hear back. We also spoke to a couple of sources who are familiar with the project, but they are not at liberty to discuss the Google Cloud Robotics Platform yet.
But suffice to say the timing is right thanks to the maturing of both the robotics market and Google Cloud’s products. As Sandy Agnos, Brain Corp.’s Director of Global Business Development, put it: “Robotics and the Cloud (RaaS) are like peanut butter and jelly.”
Here is what we have gathered based on the Google Cloud Robotics Platform website. The platform combines AI, robotics, and the cloud to enable “an open ecosystem of automation solutions that use cloud-connected collaborative robots. Our AI and ML services will make sense of the unpredictable physical world, enabling efficient robotic automation in highly dynamic environments.”
With the Google Cloud Robotics Platform, developers will have access to all of Google’s data management and AI capabilities, from Cloud Bigtable to Cloud AutoML, which at press time included beta versions of AutoML Translation, Natural Language, and Vision. Google says its “object intelligence service will provide low-latency object recognition and pose detection which can be used for grasping, automated inventory and more.”
The Google Cloud Robotics Platform will also use Google Cartographer, which provides real-time simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) in 2D and 3D. Cartographer will continuously process sensor data from multiple sources and will allow robots to localize in a shared map. Google says “even if your environment changes over time, our spatial intelligence services will analyze your workspaces and can be used to query, track and react to changes in the environment.”
Google says its “customers fully own their data, which is always encrypted on our platform. If their plans change, they can take their data with them wherever they go.” Google says the platform will cover foundational needs, including secure and robust connectivity between robots and the cloud. Users will be able to manage and distribute these digital assets with Kubernetes and can turn to Stackdriver for data logging, monitoring, alerting, and dashboarding.
Cloud Robotics at Google I/O 2011
This video from Google I/O 2011 features Ken Conley, Brian Gerkey, Ryan Hickman and Damon Kohler discussing how cloud robotics can accelerate the pace of robotics research and development.
The core infrastructure for the Google Cloud Robotics Platform is open source and users will pay only for what services they use. If you want to be notified when the Google cloud robotics service is open to early adopters, you can sign up for notifications here.
Benefits of cloud robotics
Cloud robotics offers many benefits, including the following:
Big Data: Access to updated libraries of images, maps, and object/product data
Cloud Computing: Access to parallel grid computing on demand for statistical analysis, learning, and motion planning
Collective Learning: Robots and systems sharing trajectories, control policies, and outcomes, and
Human Computation: Use of crowdsourcing to tap human skills for analyzing images and video, classification, learning, and error recovery. The Cloud can also provide access to datasets, publications, models, benchmarks, and simulation tools, open competitions for designs and systems, and open-source software.
Google, Microsoft target robotics developers
The timing of the Google Cloud Robotics Platform might be a coincidence, but robotics are reportedly making a comeback at Google. Of course, Google went on a buying spree in 2013 acquiring eight robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics. But things did not end well and Google eventually sold Boston Dynamics to Softbank.
Multiple reports indicate Google is working on a rival to the domestic robot Amazon is working on. This could be under the leadership of Ryan Hickman, who in June 2018 returned to Google Brain after he tried to launch a robotics startup called TickTock AI, which was also exploring consumer robotics applications.
Hopefully, Google’s robotics efforts work out better this time around, but things will not be easy, especially when it comes to winning over robotics developers. Microsoft announced at ROSCon 2018 that it is working with Open Robotics and the ROS Industrial Consortium (ROS-I) to bring the Robot Operating System (ROS) to Windows 10.
It appears this move is an opportunity for Microsoft to further expose its Azure cloud platform, and associated products, to the vast number of ROS developers worldwide. The release is being called “experimental” at this point, but be assured Microsoft, Open Robotics, and ROS-I are committed to making this work.
“As robots have advanced, so have the development tools. We see robotics with artificial intelligence as universally accessible technology to augment human abilities … [and] this development will bring the manageability and security of Windows 10 IoT Enterprise to the innovative ROS ecosystem,” says Lou Amadio, Microsoft’s principal software engineer for Windows IoT, who is also on the ROS 2 Technical Steering Committee.
This is not the first time Microsoft has focused on robotics developers. It launched in 2006 Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio (MRDS), a development and software package that was released about one year before Willow Garage announced ROS. However, MRDS never gained traction, and the last MRDS update was published in March 2012. Microsoft’s robotics group officially shut down in 2014.
Google and Microsoft have both had ups and downs in the robotics industry. Let’s see how both tech giants fare this time around targeting robotics developers.