Smart Thermostats And Robots: What is Google Really Buying?

Google spends more in acquisitions than its five biggest competitors combined. In the past two years, it has spent over $17 billion on acquisitions. And the pace is not slowing down. In the past twelve months, Google has acquired 20 new companies.

Most recently, Google acquired Nest, a company led by the Apple designer known as the ‘godfather of the iPod,’ for $3.2 billion. Nest is pioneering the smart home appliance industry, making elegant, smart thermostats and smoke detectors. Nest is a strategic acquisition for Google for several reasons. It gives them a strong foothold in “the internet of things,” the imminent future in which all objects are connected to the web.  The internet of things is simply the expansion of the web into the real world, which obviously means a greater and deeper reach for the search giant.

Nest also affords Google design expertise, of which, after the lukewarm reception of Google Glass, they are in desperate need.  Apple designers understand the importance of design and the role it plays in building trust with the user. That is why people keep their iPhone by their bed and why they cringe if it falls to the floor. Google has struggled with privacy issues and gaining trust. With Nest, they are able to gain access to the home in a design purpose-built by experts in making you feel at ease.

These concerns have been raised by many consumers, but Nest has insured that their privacy agreements will protect personal data. Plus, if you are worried about Google having info on you, there is probably more compromising data out there than your preferred room temperature.

Though it came with the largest price tag, Nest is just one of the twenty companies Google acquired in the last 12 months. So what else is Google buying, and what does it all add up to?

Google has amassed a diverse group of companies, ranging from mobile applications, to airborne wind turbines, to a video production company, to robotic arms. Of the twenty, more than half of the new companies will operate under Google X, the company’s covert research and development department.By looking at the list of companies, one can get a sense of where Google is headed.

The Software Buys

At the beginning of the year, Google acquired Channel Intelligence, an e-commerce company that helps stores analyze their data to sell more products. Soon after came the acquisition of DNNresearch. DNNresearch (which stands for Deep Neural Networks) is a three-person team based in Montreal that specializes in machine learning. This was followed by a score of software companies.

Google also acqui-hired behavior prediction company Behavio. The company built a product that monitors a user’s environment in order to make predictions about behavior. This fits nicely into Google’s goal of one day offering pre-emptive search. Talaria technologies, a software company that helps websites run more efficiently, also joined Google’s Cloud Platform.

Mobile Computing

Next up, going from the very apex of high technology, Google acquired a slew of social, mobile, and web companies. One of their big buys was the Flutter app, which lets users control computers with gestures. Flutter is a web app that enables users to control various applications with hand gestures using just the application and a webcam – no other devices required.

Another was Wavii, which built an iPhone app that uses natural language processing and machine-learning to convert a massive amount web content into structured, summarized stories.And Waze, a community-based traffic app that helps drivers find the fastest route by filtering in real-time data from other users.

They also bought Bump, a mobile app that enables users to share files, photos, or videos, between phones by simply bumping them into each other.

Finally, three companies were snapped up to bolster Google’s Android and video platforms. FlexyCore is a French company that was acquired for an estimated $23 million. Their main product, DroidBooster was an app that was designed to improve the performance of android devices. They also bought Autofuss, a creative video production company based in San Francisco, and Bitspin, a company that built a better alarm clock app.

Google’s Robot Army

Then, to shift gears, came a string of hardware acquisitions. This is what constitutes the bulk of Google’s recent buys: robotics.

In the past few months, Google purchased the following:

- Meka Robotics, led by MIT alums, which builds humanoid robotic systems.

-Bot & Dolly, a design and engineering firm that brings robotics to filmmaking, turning automation and motion control into a creative medium.

-Makani Power, which builds airborne wind turbines.

-Holomni, maker of high-tech omnidirectional wheels.

-Redwood Robotics, which builds robotic arms.

-Schaft, a Japanese robot-maker that is trying to build stronger robots by building complex motors that act like muscles.

-Industrial Perception, which is hard at work building robots that can be guided by 3d vision.

-And Boston Dynamics, the builder of highly-advanced robots that are mobile, agile, strong, and fast. In fact, they have built the fastest robot in the world, which can run up to 29mph. They also build a robot that can jump 30ft into the air.

The Long Game

So, with so many acquisitions in so many areas, what is Google really buying? In just a couple of words: the future.

This batch of companies puts Google within reach of a diverse and solid expansion into hardware - an industry long dominated by rival Apple. With its fingers in so many pies, Google is now positioned for entry into the smart appliance and robotics areas. Adding those to its existing web properties will allow it to build smarter hardware and break down the barrier between the internet, users, and the appliances in their home.

One can thread together a vision of Google’s vision of the future simply by looking at this list of recent acquisitions. The future will be automated, it will be gestural. Robots will see and respond to our needs - they will predict our needs. They will learn, they will move, they will help us get where we are trying to go- or in fact deliver us to our destinations.

The future, of course, remains unclear, but by this list we can get a sense of what the world will be like in the coming decades. And while the particulars are unknowable, one thing is certain: in the future, there will be a lot more Google.

Toys R Us Is Back In Business, Opening A Brand New Store In New Jersey

More in Technology