The top of the corporate ladder at Google is getting to be an unsteady place. Only a week after the tech giant reorganized its top management, Andy Rubin, Google's head of robotics and former head of Android, has confirmed that he is leaving the company to launch a new incubator for hardware start-ups.
Rubin, who co-founded the mobile operating system Android, joined Google in 2005 after it bought Android. He then ran the Android division of the company until last year. At that time he switched roles to head up Google's robotics efforts, which included several acquisitions. Rubin confirmed the rumor of his departure in The Wall Street Journal on Friday.
James Kuffner, a research scientist at Google and a member of the robotics group, will take over for Rubin as head of the unit.
Rubin provided important leadership that enabled Google to keep up with Apple as smartphones became an essential computing device for many. Rubin kept his Android team separate from the rest of the company and its employees for years, even making sure the Android group had its own lunchroom on the Google campus.
His departure comes at a volatile time at Google. Last week Google CEO Larry Page transferred leadership of several core Google product areas to Sundar Pichai, who was responsible for Android, Chrome and Google Apps. Pichai took over Android operations in place of Rubin.
The shift is raising questions about why Rubin would leave the company so soon into his time in charge of robotics. In an e-mail to The Wall Street Journal, Rubin insisted his decision to leave Google had nothing to do with the company or Page.
"Larry enabled the robotic effort to run exactly the way I wanted it to, and we made great progress in our first year," he said.
"I want to wish Andy all the best with what's next," Page said via e-mail. "With Android he created something truly remarkable -- with a billion-plus happy users. Thank you."
Rubin had been given lots of flexibility by Page to pursue his fascination with robots after his departure from Android. By late last year, Rubin had overseen Google's acquisitions of several robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics, Schaft and Meka Robotics. Boston Dynamics is best known for its four-legged robot called BigDog, which can carry heavy loads across uneven terrain.
His departure could be damaging to Google's robotics efforts. Kuffner, though, has worked on human-like robot technology for over two decades, including for seven years at Carnegie Mellon University and five years on Google's self-driving project.