Proposed: Scary Robots to Make ‘Unannounced’ Visits to Google Campus

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
March 13, 2014

Coming soon to the Googleplex? Screen shot from SRL’s proposal video.

Presumably the folks over at Google get a lot of interesting proposals. But I’ll bet not many are as cool as the one issued in public the other day by Mark Pauline, founder of Survival Research Laboratories.

It involves big, crazy, unannounced robot spectacles — right on the Google campus.

This sounds like a prank, but Pauline says he means it. And, actually, it sort of makes sense.

Here’s the deal: Pauline and various collaborators operating under the SRL umbrella have devised a remarkable series of robots, machines and special-effect devices, demonstrated in a series of “mechanized events” dating back to 1979. It’s serious stuff — huge, lumbering metal beasts; flame-throwing devices; massive mechanical claws. The events are loud and disconcerting, and things have a tendency to get destroyed.

In other words, SRL operates rather decisively outside the traditional corporate or military realms where tech boundaries are pushed (as the SRL site puts it: “Dangerous and Disturbing Mechanical Presentations since 1979”). But its unlikely and frequently menacing creations really work. And that’s why performances are legendary and notorious. Check out the recent “teaser reel” below. (Or longer videos here or here.)

And Google is — well, you know what Google is.

What’s relevant is Google’s recent interest in robotics and artificial intelligence (manifested for example in its much-reported purchase of Boston Dynamics, a robot maker with extensive military contracts).

Reached via email, Pauline tells me that this is part of what piqued his interest in suggesting a collaboration. A longtime SRL member joined Google X not long ago, and it was when visiting this friend last year that Pauline first thought about an on-campus robot event.

The Google campus, he suggests in the proposal video, would be a perfect place for periodic SRL “machine performances.” These “robotic spectacles for the viewing pleasure of the Google community” would be unannounced and publicized on campus via word of mouth. SRL creations could serve as “test beds” for Google’s AI/robotics explorations. And, as the video argues: The organization has a track record for bringing the tech crowd and the “marginal characters of the Bay Area” together.

Through various personal contacts, Pauline’s proposal has apparently been forwarded to a number of executives — including, he says, Sergey Brin. (He hasn’t heard anything back yet; my own inquiry to Google’s official PR department has gone unanswered.) 

“I’m quite serious about the proposal,” Pauline assured me via email. “I think that if the SRL machines were updated with modern sensors, etc., they would make valuable platforms for robotic research.” After all, SRL’s wild experiments have ended up ahead of the curve before — imagine where they could go with a steadier funding source. Moreover, they’d offer something most robotics challenges and competitions fail to provide: “entertainment value.”

That’s an understatement. And given all we hear about tech companies competing with employee amenities, surely it matters: A great cafeteria is kinda cool — but the potential for an unannounced robot rampage would be tough to beat.

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