Alphabet Layoffs Hit Trash-Sorting Robots

In a world of rapidly advancing technology, robots have become an integral part of our lives. But what happens when a robot-focused venture fails? Read on to find out how Alphabet’s Everyday Robots project, which trained robots to open doors and do other tasks, met its demise as part of Alphabet’s budget cuts.

The Rise of Everyday Robots
Alphabet’s X moonshot lab graduated Everyday Robots in 2019, and the team trained over a hundred wheeled, one-armed robots to do everyday tasks like squeegee cafeteria tables, separate trash and recycling, and, of course, open doors.

This robotics venture was the latest failed bet for Alphabet, who had previously spun out internet-beaming balloons (Loon) and power-generating kites (Makani). These projects harnessed novel technologies that showed impressive promise in trials, but not rock-solid reliability.

Everyday Robots emerged from the rubble of at least eight robotics acquisitions by Google a decade ago. Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin expected machine learning would reshape robotics, and Page in particular wanted to develop a consumer-oriented robot.

The team set up arm farms and playpens, where a fleet of robots for months would repeat the same task—like sorting rubbish. It was a brute-force attempt to generate data to train a machine learning model that could then embody the robots with the know-how needed to use their cameras, arms, wheels, and fingerlike grips to interact with the world around them.

The team had Everyday Robots’ fleet help clean the search giant’s dining halls and check for untidy conference rooms mid-pandemic. Last year, Everyday Robots demonstrated further progress with Google AI researchers.

The Demise of Everyday Robots
Unfortunately, Alphabet deemed Everyday Robots too commercially inviable to keep afloat, and the project is now shutting down as part of budget cuts spreading across the Google parent.

The robotics venture struggled with whether its mission was to pursue advanced research or deliver a product to market. It staffed up to over 200 employees, and each robot likely cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Ultimately, Alphabet’s other bets, such as Everyday Robots and Waymo, lost about $6.1 billion last year. Alphabet’s overall profit fell 21 percent last year to $60 billion as spending on Google ads slowed, and the company announced it would lay off about 12,000 workers. Everyday Robots was one of the few projects disbanded.

Alphabet’s Everyday Robots project was an ambitious venture, but unfortunately, it was not commercially viable and has now shut down as part of Alphabet’s budget cuts. It’s a reminder of the challenges that come with developing advanced robotics technology, and the importance of finding the right balance between research and product development.

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