Google patent envisions cloud control of an army of robots

Team of robots could work together in a rescue situation or on a factory floor

Google robot patent illustration

Google robot patent illustration.

Credit: U.S. Patent Office
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Google received a U.S. patent this week for technology that would enable it to use the cloud to control an army of robots.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday issued a patent to the Mountain View, Calif. company for methods and systems associated with managing and giving tasks to multiple robots.

Google, which has been increasingly focused on robotics the past few years, filed for the patent on Feb. 3, 2013.

The technology involves sending task instructions to the group of robots, along with monitoring the "health" of the robotic systems or its ability to accomplish its task.

In the company's patent application, Google noted that a robot, or robots, may receive instructions through the cloud, where data about the robots' work and functions could also be stored.

"This could be important to Google because it could be a foundational patent, or a patent for a technology that is essential in a field," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "This dictates how work could be spread across multiple robots, depending on which one, or ones, are best suited to accomplish a certain task. For instance, if the objective is to save everyone inside a house on fire, put the fire out, and take the injured to the hospital, this would dictate which robot does each task."

"We hold patents on a variety of ideas – some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t,” a Google spokesperson said in an email to Computerworld. "Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents.”

This patent was granted just weeks after the company received a separate patent for technology that would enable a robot to have personalities that could be customized according to the user's or owner's preferences.

According to that patent, robots could be designed to not only work for different users but to recognize individuals -- through facial and speech recognition -- and change personalities to suit that person's needs.

Together, these are important patents for a company to begin to amass.

"Google is building a stash of patents, like an arms dealer collects weapons," said Moorhead. "Patents are assets, like cash, and can be sold and licensed in negotiations.... Robotics is one of the areas Google has been focusing its research efforts on. This patent is but one sign of the fruits of their labor."

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said this kind of technology -- using a team or army of robots together -- could be a useful tool for many enterprises, Google included.

"This could be important for certain jobs," he added. "The enterprise could use robots instead of people, particularly for menial tasks like working on an assembly line, packing containers and shipping products. It expands the addressable market for robots from doing just individual tasks [to] also team-oriented ones."

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