Android inventor Andy Rubin showcases his godfathered biped robot in Tokyo



See the original story in Japanese.

On Friday afternoon, Andy Rubin made a keynote speech at the New Economy Summit 2016 in Tokyo. Rubin developed the Android smartphone platform and sold it to Google, then joined Google as vice president of engineering before recently launched his own company called Playground Global. His new company will incubate and support hardware startups.

According to Rubin, Playground Global is a cross between a typical venture capital firm in Silicon Valley and an IDEO-like design studio, employing about 50 in-house engineers focusing on industrial design, mechanical design, electrical engineering and other key areas. Despite only 11 months having passed since launch, the company has successfully fundraised $300 million for the purpose of investing in hardware startups last year.


Looking back at the history of IT industry, we see a new computing platform emerging every 10 to 15 years. From Rubin’s perspective, he believes artificial intelligence (AI) will come next after the mobile platform. Given the paradigm shift driven by artificial intelligence, there will be a major change in how people interact with machines. By placing AI in the cloud as well as gathering information via sensors located sporadically, AI-powered engines will be taught and trained.


A robot is definitely a complex aggregate of these sensors. To highlight this, Rubin invited Yuto Nakanishi onstage to ask him to unveil his biped robot under development. Nakanishi was CEO of Japanese robotics company Schaft, which was acquired by Google when Rubin was still with the tech giant. Nakanishi is currently continuing his R&D work at X (formerly Google X), the new tech development company under Google. Since Rubin has quit Google, he has no direct business relationship with Nakanishi for now but it seems Nakanishi agreed to make his new robot public upon request from the man who gave the go-ahead to investdin Nakanishi’s business years ago.

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Having no name yet, this robot is slightly shorter than the average human. Even on bumpy roads, it can walk while maintaining stability. Since it can walk up and down even on tiny steps of stairs, the use case includes autonomous stair-sweeping by attachment of vacuuming devices on its foot. However, applications for this robot are yet specifically to be determined by Google.


Rubin concluded the session with a prediction that computer engineers will need the skills of ‘training’ neural networks as well as programming. Hence, computer engineering will be replaced by the new concept of everyone teaching new things to robots or AI systems because of changes in how interactions with machines take place in coming years.

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy