Andy Rubin, former Android chief, leaves Google

Andy Rubin, the man behind the Android operating system at Google, has left the company to start an incubator for tech hardware companies. Since March 2013, Andy Rubin has been the head of Google's robotics division, overseeing several important acquisitions.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
Andy Rubin, Google's head of robotics and the driving force behind Android, is leaving the company, Google announced on Thursday. Here, Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California, are shown in a file photo.

Andy Rubin has done a lot for smart phones: the Google executive oversaw development of the Android OS, which is now the world’s most-used phone platform by a mile. Google bought Mr. Rubin’s startup company Android Inc. in 2005, and over the next few years Rubin guided the OS as it matured into a competitor with Apple’s iOS. Now Andy Rubin is leaving Google, the company announced on Thursday, to create an incubator for technology hardware startup companies.

Rubin stepped down from running Google’s Android division in March 2013, and has since been overseeing the company’s robotics efforts. After becoming the head of the robotics division, he helped Google to acquire several robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics and Schaft. Boston Dynamics is known for two robots it has built: BigDog, a four-legged robot designed to carry loads across rocky or unstable surfaces, and ATLAS, a six-foot-tall humanoid robot made for search-and-rescue jobs. Schaft, a Japanese company, won the DARPA Robotics prize shortly after being acquired by Google, building a two-legged robot that could climb stairs without losing its balance.

At the time, Google’s acquisition of these companies made many observers wonder what its plans were. Would the robotics technology be used to improve Google’s self-driving car? Or was the company planning to build robots to automate daily tasks? The New York Times reported that Rubin thought robots could be put to use delivering consumer goods, although executives also admitted that Google’s robotics efforts were “a moonshot.”

The task of integrating Boston Dynamics and Schaft into the rest of Google will be left to Rubin’s successor James Kuffner, a research scientist and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, whom Google tapped to fill Rubin’s shoes as the head of the robotics division. Mr. Kuffner has years of experience in the robotics field, according to the Wall Street Journal, and has even spent several years working on Google’s self-driving car. He’s also a driving force in the field of cloud robotics, in which robots can use the information and computing power from distributed data centers to reason and perform more efficiently.

Rubin isn’t the only major player to leave Google this year: Vic Gundotra, who was in charge of Google Plus and the company’s other social-media efforts, left in April; and Nikesh Arora, Google’s chief business officer, left in July. Still, Google isn't in any trouble: after all, when you’re one of the world’s most admired companies, you don’t have any trouble attracting top-shelf talent.

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