Could robots walk on stage at Google I/O?

Emerging tech, like Glass, robots and the connected home may get some play at Google I/O

Will Google CEO, Larry Page, walk out with a six-foot-two, 330-pound humanoid robot when he takes the stage at the company's developers conference this week?

That's an entrance that would rival the Google I/O demo from 2012, which included skydivers parachuting down to the conference center and then riding bikes into the keynote auditorium -- all while wearing Google Glass.

Last year's Google I/O, the company's major developer conference, didn't have the high-flying spectacle from the year before, but attendees were surprised by the unexpected appearance of CEO Larry Page, who was recovering from a throat ailment but gave a speech and answered developers' questions for more than an hour.

Now that Google has recently scooped up at least eight robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics, the maker of the Atlas humanoid robot, some are wondering if Page will have a robotic companion if he takes the stage at the start of the conference on Wednesday.

"I hope so. That would be really cool," said Scott Strawn, an analyst with IDC. "This is a developer conference and there is software programming that needs to be done in robotics. Google is very much involved in the development of ROS [Robot Operating System] and making sure it functions with Android. They may want to start to generate some interest there."

If Google does talk robotics at the conference, it probably will focus on creating an Android-based platform for them, Strawn added.

Of course, there are plenty of things that Google could potentially unveil, promote or highlight at the conference. Tablets, an update to the Android operating system, Android Wear, its platform for wearable devices, or the next generation of Chromebooks, powered by Intel's new Bay Trail chip.

The company is also likely to focus on some of its emerging technologies, such as Google Glass, robotics and the connected home.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said he expects Google to show advances made to one of its wearables, Google Glass, during the keynote.

What's not clear is whether Google will release the official version of its computerized eyeglasses during I/O.

Glass, which has been getting new apps and new designer styles, has put the Glass prototype up for general sale, but it's still a prototype.

The company has said that it will officially release Glass this year but has never provided a specific date. The question is whether it will be at Google I/O.

"It's possible they'll release it at Google I/O," said Strawn. "I'm not sure, based on what I've seen this far, if it's a consumer device yet... Google Glass should be a substantial focus there, though, because they're going to want to generate interest in building more apps."

One thing all the analysts agree on is that Google is likely to talk about the company's acquisition of Nest Technologies, a company that makes a smart-home thermostat that can be programmed from users' mobile phones.

Google, which spent $3.2 billion in cash for Nest, is expected to now be a significant player in the smart-home market and the expanding realm of the Internet of Things, in which products and appliances communicate with each other.

The concept is expected to have products ranging from cars to refrigerators and thermostats that can communicate with each other without human involvement.

Having smart appliances, including this smart thermostat in homes would give Google a lot more information about users and how they live. Advertisers would clamor for that kind of information and would pay Google a lot of money for it.

"Absolutely. I think we'll hear about this at I/O," said Strawn. "They may even introduce a new product around this. I'd imagine that we'd hear about several of their endeavors along those lines."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Nest is an important enough purchase for Google that it would be surprising if company executives didn't discuss it at the conference.

"I think they will talk about the broad opportunity for a connected home, how Nest fits in, and more importantly, how developers and other hardware manufacturers can play," he added. "

This article, Could robots walk on stage at Google I/O?, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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