Google, Amazon and Apple each spent millions on robotics in 2013, which could inspire development of artificial intelligence, along with deployment of robots in factory work, delivery and beyond.
Amazon made a big splash in December announcing plans for its Amazon Prime Air service to use drones to deliver packages up to 5 pounds or less on deliveries under 10 miles. The earliest the drones could legally be flight-ready would be 2015, since the Federal Aviation Administration is still developing rules to allow companies to use drones.
Apple is investing part of its $10.5 billion of capital expenditures for 2014 in factory robots to help produce iPads, iPhones and other gadgets by performing tasks including laser cutting as part of its push to return its manufacturing to the U.S., Bloomberg reported in November. Apple may also develop new artificial intelligence innovations following its November purchase of Israel-based PrimeSense, which helped design the 3-D depth sensors for the Microsoft Kinect on the Xbox 360.
Google had a busy 2013 acquiring eight robotic engineering companies, and two of those firms bought by the tech giant proved their worth by earning the top two scores at the Robotics Challenge Trials obstacle course managed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. According to MIT Technology Review, robots designed by recent Google acquisitions Boston Dynamics and Schaft outperformed competitors on the course, performing emergency tasks including climbing rubble, clearing debris, sawing through plywood and operating a fire hose. Google employs artificial intelligence to help its search engine respond to customer behavior, and the company's self-driving car already makes traffic decisions using mapping software and lasers that sense the road. Engineers from those parts of the company are being used in a new robotics division, headed by Andy Rubin, who helped build the Android software, The New York Times reported. This effort may compete with Amazon designing robots for delivery or could supply manufacturing to assembly lines run by Google's subsidiary Motorola, the Times added.
Speculation on the robotics goals of these tech giants is high and new automatons might not be completed in 2014, but when three of the most innovative companies in the world see an opportunity in robotics it is a safe bet that sector will be the next big thing.