The new GE: Google, everywhere – With a string of deals the internet giant has positioned itself to become a big inventor, and reinventor, of hardware

At Google they call it the toothbrush test. Shortly after returning to being the firm’s chief executive in 2011, Larry Page said he wanted it to develop more services that everyone would use at least twice a day, like a toothbrush. Its search engine and its Android operating system for mobile devices pass that test. Now, with a string of recent acquisitions, Google seems to be planning to become as big in hardware as it is in software, developing “toothbrush” products in a variety of areas from robots to cars to domestic-heating controls.Its latest purchase is Nest Labs, a maker of sophisticated thermostats and smoke detectors: on January 13th Google said it would pay $3.2 billion in cash for the firm. Google’s biggest move into hardware so far is its $12.5 billion bid for Motorola Mobility, a handset-maker, in 2011. In recent months it has been mopping up robotics firms (see table), most notably Boston Dynamics, which makes two- and four-legged machines with names like BigDog and Cheetah that can walk and run. Google’s in-house engineers have also been busy working on driverless cars and wearable gadgets such as Google Glass.

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