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Google Shuts Down Trash-Sorting Robot Division

Everyday Robots took a fairly novel approach to building an army of cleaning robots.

Last month, Google laid off 12,000 employees, one of the largest rounds of job cuts among several downsizing decisions impacting the U.S. tech industry. It seems that in addition to thousands of workers, Google’s cuts have also impacted hundreds of robots that just wanted to help.

Wired confirmed this week that Google parent company Alphabet is shutting down Everyday Robots, a subsidiary that only recently emerged from the company’s X moonshot lab. The division was developing a fleet of one-armed robots on wheels to handle menial tasks like wiping down cafeteria tables, opening doors for people and separating trash and recycling.

Everyday Robots took a fairly novel approach to building its army of cleaning robots. Instead of programming the machines to handle lots of possible situations, the company simply had the robots repeat tasks over and over. The result was a machine-learning model that equipped the robots with the know-how to separate the aluminum cans from the dirty napkins.

In 2013, Google acquired eight robotics companies which eventually joined X and, in 2016, formed the basis of Everyday Robots, which focused on building a learning robot. The reinforcement model used to train the robots in trash sorting helped Google eventually reduce its contamination in recycling, composting and landfill streams from 20% to 3%.

In addition to cleaning, Everyday Robots were able to also use their cameras and sensors for building inspection, air quality monitoring, and surface inspection of hazards, spills and waste.

But now Everyday Robots is no longer functioning as a separate project within Alphabet. However, a company spokesperson told Wired that some of the technology and part of the team will be pulled into Google Research’s ongoing robotics work.

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