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Google and Amazon: Robots vs. Drones

Both companies announced “moonshot” ideas this week that are sure to shake up the tech world

Jim Kerr is Venture Publishing's Associate Director of Digital Initiatives. Get in touch with him at

Dec 5, 2013

by Jim Kerr

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It’s been quite the week for bright ideas from big companies in the tech world.

First, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced that his company hopes to have “delivery drones” in flight within five years, now Google is doing its best to one-up its online rival.

The New York Times is reporting that the former head of Google’s Android smartphone division, Andy Rubin, will be heading up a new robotics effort for the company.

While Amazon’s “octocopter” plan focuses on delivering small packages to within a 10-mile radius of any of its “fulfillment centres,” the Google “moonshot” has the manufacturing and logistics markets in mind.

Rubin, who began his engineering career in robotics, says his aim is to find ways to improve how companies like Google assemble and deliver products. He’ll be working with seven tech companies that Google quietly acquired over the past six months, hiring roboticists and bringing in other Google programmers to help along the way.

Rubin says an example of the type of products we could see from his team would be a windshield wiper that detects rain and activates on its own. There is also speculation that this project could involve Google’s self-driving car project, which began in 2009.

Rubin warns that we shouldn’t expect anything groundbreaking to happen immediately though, saying the project needs “enough runway and a 10-year vision.”

So, as technology headlines continue to read more like they were conceived in the mind of a 1970s science fiction writer, we’re left to wonder what big breakthrough or moonshot idea might pique our collective interest next.

Public transportation drones that move people between stops? Truly hands-free devices controlled by a user’s mind? Some kind of “virtual reality” online store accessible through a mobile device/headset?

It’s impossible to know what the next big thing will be, but at least we’re constantly being reminded that there are great minds out there brainstorming.

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