Google shows more love for robots with Savioke investment

The California startup aims at producing service robots for hospitals and other environments

Google has invested in robotics company Savioke, which plans to produce a robot that could work in places such as nursing homes and hospitals.

The search engine's funding arm, Google Ventures, invested an undisclosed sum that's part of a US$2 million seed financing package led by Morado Venture Partners, with AME Cloud Ventures and individuals also pitching in.

Established in 2013, California-based Savioke is led by CEO Steve Cousins, who was in charge of the creation of the PR2 robot and the popular Robot Operating System (ROS) while president and CEO of Willow Garage, an influential robotics firm that spun off eight robotics companies.

Savioke did not give details about its plans to develop a service robot, but said the machine would use the open-source ROS and customer trials would begin later this year.

Its website describes its aspiration to bring robotics to "hotels, elder care facilities, hospitals, restaurants...anywhere people sleep or eat."

"We see tremendous opportunity by delivering a robot for the services industry," Cousins wrote in an email. "In the coming months, the information and feedback we receive from our trials will help us determine our first point of entry."

Google did not immediately respond to a request for information about the investment.

With former Android chief Andy Rubin leading its interest in robotics, the search engine has been on a shopping spree for robot companies lately.

It has acquired such firms as Japan-based Schaft, which developed a full-size bipedal humanoid robot that won the prestigious DARPA Robotics Challenge trials in December 2013. The challenge is sponsored by the U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an arm of the Department of Defense.

The jewel in Google's robot crown, however, is Boston Dynamics, a military contractor known for creating both humanoid machines such as the Terminator-like Atlas, and robots inspired by animals, such as BigDog, a cargo-carrying machine funded by DARPA.

Google CEO Larry Page has speculated that Rubin's robot project could succeed like Android.

"His last big bet, Android, started off as a crazy idea that ended up putting a supercomputer in hundreds of millions of pockets," Page wrote in a post in December. "It is still very early days for this, but I can't wait to see the progress.ÿ"

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