Google’s “moonshot” specialist is moving on.
Andy Rubin, the chief architect of Android, is leaving Google to create an incubator for hardware start-ups.
Rubin’s departure is being described as a major blow to Google’s robotics program, which he has led since early 2013.
Google has been snapping up robotics firms — including Boston Dynamics and Atlas — right, left and center since Rubin took the reins of the program last March. CEO Larry Page and co-founder Sergey Brin had loosened the purse strings to fund the project, an indication of their faith in Rubin’s abilities to lead the company into new areas beyond its core search and advertising business.
“I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next,” Page said in a statement to the media. “With Android he created something truly remarkable-with a billion plus happy users. Thank you.”
Page in a Google+ post last years described Rubin’s Android “as a crazy idea that ended up putting a supercomputer in hundreds of millions of pockets. It is still very early days for this, but I can’t wait to see the progress.”
James Kuffner, who worked under Rubin as part of the robotics group, will now lead the division, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Although Rubin has never offered any specifics about Google’s robotic aspirations he told The Times last year that he would focus on using technology to free humans from monotonous and unpleasant tasks. As an example of the type of systems he hopes to build, Rubin used a windshield wiper that automatically operates when it rains.
“We’re building systems, so one team will be able to understand the whole stack,” Rubin told the publication, adding that breakthroughs in areas like software and sensors are a goal for the future. He said that hardware issues such as mobility have been solved.
“Like any moonshot, you have to think of time as a factor,” he added. “We need enough runway and a 10-year vision.”
Rubin, who first joined Google in 2005 as part of the tech titan’s acquisition of Android, has had little to say about his departure.
In an e-mail to the Wall Street Journal, he said he is leaving because he wants to try something new on his own, adding that he “didn’t really have any issues with independence” at Google.
“Larry enabled the robotic effort to run exactly the way I wanted it to, and we made great progress in our first year,” he wrote.
Not everyone thinks Rubin made the decision to leave, however.
“It’s surprising and sounds pretty unplanned,” IDC analyst Scott Strawn told the WSJ. “If it was voluntary on Mr. Rubin’s part, you would think he would see part of the robotics project through to completion to have something to show publicly before leaving.”