When Boston Dynamics posted a video of its humanoid robot, Atlas, walking in the snow and recovering from getting kicked, Google was not happy.
Boston Dynamics and its Atlas robot YouTube/Boston Dynamics
As one former employee told Tech Insider, it "soured the soup" of a relationship that was already heading south.
Bloomberg first reported the issues surrounding the video when it obtained an email posted on an internal Google forum.
"Theres excitement from the tech press, but were also starting to see some negative threads about it being terrifying, ready to take humans jobs, Courtney Hohne, a director of communications at Google and the spokeswoman for Google X, wrote inthat email.
Hohne asked her colleagues at Google to distance X from this video, writing, we dont want to trigger a whole separate media cycle about where BD really is at Google."
That last point Hohne makes is key: where Boston Dynamics fits into Google's vision has been an issue for some time. It's actually why Google is selling off Boston Dynamics.
And sources Tech Insider spoke with say Google is closing in on a buyer.
We spoke to a few former Boston Dynamics employees about the tensions with Google, who explained the reasons for the split.
Google declined to comment for this story and Toyota did not respond to a request for comment.
Boston Dynamics' robot Wild Cat. YouTube/ Boston Dynamics
To understand the tensions between Google and Boston Dynamics, it's important to see how the visions of each company differed.
Marc Raibert founded Boston Dynamics in 1992. It was born out of MIT's Leg Lab,a lab that builds and studies legged robots that Raibert founded in 1986.
It's pretty easy to see the connectionwith the MIT Leg Lab considering Boston Dynamics' robots, often showed off in YouTube videos, were all advanced, bipedalrobots boasting skills in mobility. In addition to the most recent Atlas video, there was Spot, a four-legged robot dog designed to work with the marines. And Cheetah robot, another four-legged bot that's a bit faster than Usain Bolt.
As Boston Dynamics wrote in the About section of its YouTube page: "Our mission is to build the most advanced robots on Earth, with remarkable mobility, agility, dexterity and speed."
Google acquired Boston Dynamics in 2013 for an undisclosed amount, in addition to eight other robotics companies. Andy Rubin,the co-founder of Android, was set to oversee the nine robotics companies as part of a newroboticsdivision called Replicant.
Andy Rubin AP/Paul Sakuma
Rubin was always tight-lippedon how Google planned to use the robotics companies, but he told the New York Times in 2013 that hedid not expect initial product development to go on for years.
That's a similar sentiment echoed by a few former Boston Dynamics employees.
"The impression I got was Rubins robotic companies were sort of allowed to get some leash," one such person told Tech Insider.
A few formeremployees toldTI that Rubin was willing to let Boston Dynamics, as well as the other acquired robotics companies, continue with their research as planned. The idea was to see what kind of ideas and innovations the robotics companies came up with, and let that guide Google's eventual robotics vision.
"We were just making the robot we all thought we should make fortechnology purposes and for pushing the envelope," the former employee said.
"Certainly during the Andy Rubinadministration and a little while after that, yes, they just proceeded. Theytook all the knowledge and experience they had building other projects forother people, and took the best lessons learned and iterated it in a newgeneration of robots optimized for size and sound."
But in October 2014, less than a year after Google formed Replicant, Rubin left the company. That's where troubles started mounting.
Boston Dynamics' robot Atlas can pick up boxes. YouTube/Boston Dynamics
A little while after Rubin left, there was a leadership vacuum with no one to lead the disparate robotics groups.
There was still James Kuffner,the co-founder of Replicant, who left Google in January, andJonathan Rosenberg,who served as an adviser. But there was no one with the same research and robotics background as Rubin.
Additionally, many employees had signed on to work with Rubin because of his vision and felt disappointed by his departure, someformer employees told Tech Insider.
In 2015, Google attempted to take control of the robotics groups to learn what they were working on and how it could be translated into a consumer product, the former employees said.
"Thats when we first started seeing Google...actually trying to have leadership structure over all those roboticgroups," one former employee said. "Where theyre saying, 'Okay, what do you do? Are you mobility, are youvision?' .... andgrouping them and directing them toward a commercial product space."
It's still unclear what exactly Google wanted in terms of a consumer product. One former employee said Google wanted an easy-to-use robot that could help with basic tasks around the house. One idea pitched was that it would roam around on wheels, which could arguably be seen as more consumer friendly than a complex, legged robot.
Boston Dynamics, given that it was born out of the MIT Leg Lab, was rubbed that wrong way by that concept.
A different former employee told Tech Insider that Google wanted a robot that could help around the house or in the office. It's for that reason Boston Dynamics was asked to switch to electronics over hydraulics.
"Basically, a battery-operated robot, even if its battery is operating a hydraulic pump, its muchquieter than a robot running on an outdoor motor and is really loud," the person said. "You want it quiet if its going to be around people all day."
That same former employee said a factory robot wasn't out of the question, which is why you see Atlas stacking boxes in the video that "soured the soup."
Boston Dynamics began resisting the push to build specifically for a consumer product, a former employee said.
"I feltlike the response in the Boston office was to put a higher wall up and protecttheir entity, rather than provide leadership out in California," the person said.
That was made all the easier considering the physical distance between Boston-based Boston Dynamics and Google in Mountain Valley, California, a different employee noted.
Boston Dynamics continued to pursue their own research rather than go in the direction Google wanted, the former employees said.
"At the end of day what I saw was a sense of us and them instead of a we we werent part of Google, we were sort of a separate thing,"the person said.
Bloomberg was able to obtain the minutes to a Nov. 11 meeting that highlights this exact issue.
"As a startup of our size cannot spend 30-plus percent of our resources on things that take ten years," Rosenberg said, adding that"theres some time frame that we need to be generating an amount of revenue that covers expenses and (that) needs to be a few years."
Raibert pushed back, according to the minutes, stating the best way to get to an eventual consumer product is to let Boston Dynamics continue the type of work they've been doing.
"I firmly believe the only way to get to a product is through the work we are doing in Boston. (I) dont think we are the pie in the sky guys as much as everyone thinks we are," the minutes show.
It's for that reason the video of Atlas "soured the soup" with Google. As the internalGoogle email obtained from Bloomerg said, it raised questions of "where BD really is at Google."
Marc Raibert YouTube/Zeitgeist Minds
Google is in talks with the Toyota Research Institute to sell its robotics division Boston Dynamics, a source familiar with the matter toldTech Insider.
A price for the deal has not yet been disclosed.
Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, worked with Marc Raibert, founder and CEO of Boston Dynamics, at MIT's leg lab a lab that builds and studies legged robots that Raibert founded in 1986. Pratt took over the lab in 1992 after Raibert left the university to build Boston Dynamics.
Raibert still runs Boston Dynamics under Google.
James Kuffner, the co-founder of Google's robotics division, left the company in January to join the the Toyota Research Institute.
Joseph Bondaryk, the operation manager for Boston Dynamics under Google, also joined the Toyota Research Institute in January, according to LinkedIn.
Other notable moves include Philipp Michel, who worked as a senior roboticist for Google's robotics division before moving to the Toyota Research Institute in February, a LinkedIn search found. And Adam Geboff, senior systems and hardware engineer for Replicant, joined the Institute in April, according to LinkedIn.
Toyota is showing increasing interest in the tech deals space. It's in talks to make a major investment in Uber.
While it's unclear exactly what Toyota might have planned for the robotics company, a former Boston Dynamics employee referred to the deal as a "friendly buyout."
"It's a morefriendly buyout when you haveinterpersonal connections there already," the person said.