The engineers behind it Google's short-lived bookbot – a robot developed for experimental products in the company's Incubator Area 120 – has launched its own startup to bring the bot to deliver sidewalks back to life.
The secret startup, named Cartken, was founded in autumn 2019 after Google closed an internal program to develop a delivery robot – a step triggered by the technology giant's decision to reduce efforts to compete with Amazon when it comes to shopping.
Unlike Amazon, Google took over the robot manufacturer Dispatch to build its Scout delivery device and used the talent of its own engineers and logistics experts to develop a street robot inside Google's walls Area 120 incubator. However, the project stalled after just a few months when Google withdrew from retail delivery.
Cartken was founded by engineers from the Bookbot program and a logistics expert who was previously responsible for the operation of Google Express, the service that was integrated into Google Shopping last year.
Area 120 is an understated version of Google's famous X-Moonshot factory, where small teams quickly develop new products in which they have a personal interest. Area 120 has produced around a dozen apps and services since 2016, including a crowdsourcing transit app, an educational video platform, a virtual customer service representative for small businesses, and an emoji-based guessing game.
BookBot was the first publicly announced Area 120 hardware project. The Google Project incubator formed a group to research autonomous robots in early 2018. At around the same time, the city of Mountain View decided to allow pilot programs for PDDs (Personal Delivery Devices).
Discussions between Area 120 and Mountain View began in summer 2018, and by the end of February 2019, the BookBot would be operational one day a week for the city's library system.
Except for its book collecting tasks, the six-wheel electric device worked in a similar way to the delivery robot from Amazon, Starship Technologies and marble. The 32-inch BookBot shown below is equipped with a range of sensors for autonomous operation and can be remotely controlled by a human operator if required. The robot was designed to carry up to 50 pounds of cargo and was moving on sidewalks at a maximum speed of 4.5 miles per hour.
Users can request book collection from the library website. The BookBot then navigated to their house and texted them when it arrived. After the user put the books in the cargo hold, the robot returned to the library, where the workers checked in the materials.
Google team leader Christian Bersch informed SilconValley.com at the time that the pilot project would take nine months. "Right now we just want to learn how that would work, how it would work and what problems we would encounter," he said.
During the first run on the city sidewalks, people thought it was super cool and broke their cameras. Tracy Gray Mountain View's Library Services Director announced TechCrunch. "There were no accidents, no technical problems and no vandalism."
The biggest problem was neither interest nor business. It was google.
The BookBot fell far short of its nine-month pilot project. The project ended in June after less than four months. The BookBot was only in operation in Mountain View for 12 days, two days that were missed due to rain were not taken into account. It totaled 60 miles and served only 36 users, said Gray.
Gray doesn't know why Area 120 canceled BookBot. "It was definitely an asset for library customers and a great project, but I think Google Area 120 went in a different direction," she said.
Area 120 never explained why BookBot canceled it. Google did not comment on this article.
However, BookBot's decline coincided with a strategic shift within Google. In May, just a month before the end of BookBot, Google merged its online shopping service Google Express with Google Shopping, essentially admitting that it couldn't compete with Amazon and Walmart retail giants. With the easing of retail efforts, Google has outsourced Project Wing drone delivery technology and suspended the development of the BookBot.
That wasn't the end of the little robot. Bersch left Google in July along with Jake Stelman, co-founder of the autonomous robot group of Area 120, according to LinkedIn profile data. In October, engineers Cartken Inc. founded Ryan Quinlan, a manager who had worked for both Amazon and Google Express, and another software developer from the BookBot team.
Cartken is still very much in stealth mode and declined to comment on this story, just like Google. However, a Korean trade delegation in Silicon Valley in October was told the company had "developed a delivery robot that combines unmanned autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence."
The Cartken website states that "low-cost delivery through automation" is offered, with "low-cost last-mile delivery" being stated in an earlier version. A semi-hidden product image seems to show a matt black version of the BookBot with wheels. lid and headlights and taillights.
Neither Google nor Cartken would say whether the start-up is using technologies that were developed in Area 120, or whether Google is financing the young company.
Google has a tradition of founding autonomous vehicle companies. The leader of his self-driving car project, Chris Urmson, founded Aurora with a value in excess of $ 2.5 billion. Two other Google engineers founded Nuro. who unveiled a street legal delivery robot last week. However, the move away from Google was not always so smooth.
In 2016, a group of engineers led by Anthony Levandowski left Google's car program and founded his own autonomous logistics company Otto, which was quickly taken over by Uber. This led to an epic battle for trade secrets that Levandowski is still waging.