Google gets serious on robots, snapping up robotic vision and learning startups

Google has expanded its portfolio of artificial intelligence and robotics pioneers with the purchase of two companies that have their roots in Oxford University. Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory are businesses that deal in machine learning and computer vision respectively.

The companies add to an already impressive hand of companies Google has gathered over the last few years, the jewel in its robotics crown being the frankly slightly creepy Boston Dynamics, which has built robots currently in use by the US military.

Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory will be added to Google's DeepMind artificial intelligence research company – another British artificial intelligence startup which the search giant acquired in January.

"We are thrilled to welcome these extremely talented machine learning researchers to the Google DeepMind team and are excited about the potential impact of the advances their research will bring," wrote Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind.

DeepMind is a system designed to work like a human brain, using information from its surrounding environment to make decisions free of any human interaction.

Dark Blue Labs specialises in deep learning for understanding natural language, whereas Vision Factory specialises in visual recognition systems and deep learning, allowing computers to apply artificial intelligence techniques to enhance the accuracy and speed with which they recognise objects.

Google is making a "substantial" donation to the computer science and engineering departments of Oxford University as part of the deal.

"Machine Learning is a technology whose time has come," said Prof Mike Wooldridge, head of the department of computer science at Oxford University. "We have invested heavily in this area and we are truly excited at the prospect of what we can achieve together with Google."

The global robotics industry has seen unprecedented growth over the last year, with giants like Google acquiring robotics firms like the remarkable Boston Dynamics back in December, and also snapping up an AI company, DeepMind, to go with all that recently bought robotics expertise.

It was announced earlier this year that robots are set to be used in decommissioned nuclear sites and abandoned coal mines around the UK in order to test their ability to work autonomously, as Britain looks to become the world leader in robotics.

What is Google planning? Is DeepMind a step forward, or a really bad idea? Let us know in the comments section below, or stop by for a chat with the ITProPortal team and other readers on ITProPortal's tech talk live chat.