Once upon a time, Alphabet (the parent company of Google) invested heavily in robotics. A decade ago, it acquired Boston Dynamics, maker of highly sophisticated robots like BigDog, along with seven other robotics firms. In theory, the tech giant would use that extensive portfolio to build… well, something.
But Alphabet never took its robotics efforts mainstream, and it sold off Boston Dynamics in 2017. Now, it’s laying off workers from Intrinsic, the current name for its robotics offshoot. The division is relatively small, and the actual layoffs will impact around 40 workers, or 20 percent of its staff.
“This decision was made in light of shifts in prioritization and our longer-term strategic direction,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “It will ensure Intrinsic can continue to allocate resources to our highest priority initiatives, such as building our software and AI platform, integrating the recent strategic acquisitions of Vicarious and OSRC (commercial arm Open Robotics), and working with key industry partners. While incredibly tough to do, we believe this decision is necessary for us to continue our mission.”
The layoffs are yet another sign that some of the most prominent names in tech, including Alphabet, Meta, Amazon and Salesforce, are cost-cutting and retrenching in the face of a possible recession. Amazon is reportedly slicing back “unprofitable” business units, including the devices unit responsible for the Alexa voice-activated assistant and various consumer hardware products. Over at Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is vigorously defending his massive spending on an ecosystem of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) products known collectively as the “metaverse,” despite widespread company layoffs and institutional shareholders begging him to keep costs under control.
This latest round of layoffs at Alphabet aside, robotics also remains an area of focus for the technology industry as a whole. Tesla seems dedicated to producing a humanoid robot designed to handle “boring, repetitive and dangerous” work, and manufacturers are always looking for ways to automate production via increasingly sophisticated machines. Whether or not Alphabet (finally!) brings a robot product of some sort to the mainstream, robotics as a field isn’t going away anytime soon.