Alphabet launched a new division Friday called Intrinsic, which will focus on building software for industrial robots, per a blog post. The move plunges the tech giant deeper into a sector that's in the midst of a major wave of digitization.
The goal of Intrinsic is to "give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they're completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications," CEO Wendy Tan-White wrote in the post.
That's a laudable mission, but one that will require immense engineering work in order to build a product that can ultimately be deployed relatively easily at an enterprise-grade level, a challenge Tan-White openly admitted lay ahead.
"None of this is realistic or affordable to automate today," she wrote. "This all hints at the potential for Intrinsic's software to radically reduce the time, cost, and complexity required to use industrial robots."
Intrinsic has some heavy hitters on its side to help achieve that goal, including Chief Technology Officer Torsten Kroeger and Martin Haegele, a former winner of the Engelberger Award, which is essentially the Nobel Prize for robotics.
While it's possible to train robots to handle extremely repetitive tasks, those processes begin to break down as those tasks become more complicated. Other tech giants like Nvidia are also trying to improve the capabilities of industrial robots: The chip maker has an AI lab in Seattle that is testing out several different types of robotic systems.
For Alphabet, the software could help propel other parts of the business. Manufacturing has emerged as a key focus for Google Cloud, which recently released its first industry-specific tool: an AI-based visual inspection tool. It also hired sector veterans like former SAP executive Hans Thalbauer and Accenture's Suchitra Bose to help forge deeper partnerships with other software providers and build up its own product suite.
But other cloud vendors, namely Microsoft, also sense the opportunity in further digitizing an industry that has already embraced advanced tech like artificial intelligence. For Microsoft and Google, the industrial segment is attractive because many of the promised innovations of the future — like digital twins and generative design — are going to require huge amounts of data, which means they'll need lots of expensive computing and storage services.
One of Google's biggest differentiators in the market is its AI. The company is world-renowned for the technology; just look at Alphabet's announcement earlier this week that DeepMind would release a huge database of 3D protein structures.
If Intrinsic succeeds, it could give Google Cloud, which currently lags behind AWS and Microsoft in the overall cloud infrastructure sector, a huge presence in a critical market.