If you were at Hannover Messe 2017, you won’t have missed the very visible presence of IT companies – Microsoft, SAP, Amazon Web Services, Cisco, IBM and Huawei to name but a few.
But Alphabet – or any of its subsidiaries – were not there. Is it surprising or is Alphabet taking a longer-term strategy with industrial automation and just planning to be fashionably late to the party?
Alphabet – through Google – has serious credentials in IoT. In late 2016, Google quietly announced an overhaul of its IoT operating system, rebranding Google Brillo as Android Things. Currently only available in developer preview, the OS is capable of using existing Android developer tools and its security platform. In conjunction with Weave, a communications platform for IoT devices, Google has a set of tools that could be used for industrial IoT.
Despite Android Things, Alphabet may be some way behind its peer group in industrial automation. However, there are reasons to think it could enter the space and move very quickly.
First, Alphabet has been a leader in the space of vehicle autonomy for several years. Now branded as Waymo, many of the technologies needed to productize a self-driving car could easily be transferred to autonomous mobile robots – this includes hardware/sensing and the software needed to interpret and react to the environment.
Second, Google is a leader in the development and application of neural networks and machine learning. This technology could be used to train collaborative robots, integrate voice control/personal assistance technology into machines, or process and interpret huge volumes of machine data for predictive maintenance.
Third, Google has a cloud platform that could easily host/integrate many of the applications necessary to build a cloud-based industrial platform.
Fourth, Alphabet already has a play in consumer automation through Nest. Whilst the applications/technologies are very different, there are familiar faces in the ecosystem (Honeywell, Siemens) and it may have given it a framework to think about how to approach automation in other industries. However, without experience in the industrial manufacturing sector, it could make any market entry extremely challenging and complex for Alphabet. Industrial automation is a very different animal to consumer markets.
Alphabet has many of the necessary companies and IP to be hugely successful in the industrial automation space, particularly with the trend towards digitalization and intelligent automation.
But perhaps the largest driver is profitable, long-term growth opportunities. Alphabet was, in part, structured to allow it to focus on profitability in some areas (for example, Google) and in others (the ‘other bets’) to take risks to drive future business. Intelligent automation could well be the trend that ticks both boxes at Alphabet – profitable growth from a large, scaled industry and opportunities to innovate and grow in the future.
Find out more about Interact Analysis’ industrial automation research.