Dear Softbank, please let Boston Dynamics be Boston Dynamics
First of all, congratulations. You’re about to purchase some of the coolest toys in the history of human civilization. Seriously, it’s like Christmas in early June for you all. I’m sure you can’t wait to take one of those big, hulking robots for a spin and make all of your neighbors jealous. I get it. We had Spot on stage at an event last year and for one brief, glorious moment, I actually felt alive again.
I’m sure you’ve got big plans for Big Dog and co. People don’t just run out and buy groundbreaking robotics companies from Google for an undisclosed sum without big plans. I know you’ve been pushing into the robotics world in recent years, and there’s no stronger letter of intent than picking up one of the most prestigious names in the game. You’ve probably got some great things in the works. And I’m excited to see what the two of you can do together.
Just one quick request: please let Boston Dynamics be Boston Dynamics.
It’s a big ask, I know. I get it. Pepper’s probably getting lonely being the sole face of your robotics division. That friendly face hides a lot pain. I can see it in those dead, black eyes.
I just don’t want to see a repeat of the Alphabet deal. Those two great companies could have done some great things together. Andy Rubin buying up a whole bunch of cool robotics startups under the Google banner sounded like the company was hastening the singularity and embracing some Lex Luthor-level supervillainy all at the same time. Truly exciting stuff.
But Alphabet just didn’t know what to do with the damn thing. It was a square peg in a round hole. Turns out it’s really hard to monetize a company that make big, loud robots built for war zones. There’s a reason DARPA grants are keeping so many robotics companies afloat.
And believe me, I understand what you’re doing with Pepper. You’ve bought Aldebaran Robotics and turned their research robots into friendly store greeters. They’re not changing the world, but hey, they might be well be the first encounter with a friendly robot for a new generation of roboticists. And you’ve certainly got the resources to turn them into even more.
And it’s not like I’m asking you not to leverage all of Boston Dynamics’ incredible technology for those existing platforms. I’m just asking you to let the company maintain the freedom it has to build some of the world’s most exciting robots. Your immense resources combined with the team’s brainpower could help push robotics to great new levels.
If you find yourself sticking a smiling face on Big Dog and placing it outside of an Applebee’s on the other hand, it’s pretty safe to say you two aren’t a great fit. That’s kind of what happened to Google. After Rubin left, Alphabet reportedly pushed the companies under its Replicant umbrella to be more consumer friendly. But there’s a reason every story about Big Dog or Atlas makes some tired reference to robotics overlords. Those robots are big and scary. But they’re also modern technological marvels.
It wouldn’t be useful for rattle off statistics. Sure, I read somewhere that 67-percent of second marriages end in divorce. But is that really useful information in this instance? Probably not. But I read somewhere else that the keys to a successful relationship are independence and trust. That seems relevant.
Softbank, please let Boston Dynamics continue to build big robots and make crazy videos and I’m sure all of this will work out in the end.
I’m rooting for you crazy kids, I really am.