Military robot maker Boston Dynamics has been among Google's acquisitions in Massachusetts (image courtesy of Boston Dynamics)
Military robot maker Boston Dynamics has been among Google's acquisitions in Massachusetts (image courtesy of Boston Dynamics)

Up until nine months ago, Google had acquired just four companies in the Boston area (or five, if you count the company’s “acquisition” of Biz Stone/Genius Labs). One of those was the huge pickup of ITA Software, of course, but little else apparently enthralled Google in Boston during the company’s first decade-and-a-half.

Since late last year, however, Google has been on a modest acquisition spree in the Boston area — buying up three local tech firms, the latest being Boston video app maker Directr on Wednesday.

It’s one barometer of Google’s growing interest in Boston’s innovation economy. Among the others: The Silicon Valley powerhouse opened an expanded new office in Cambridge on Tuesday, and its venture arm, Google Ventures, has ramped up its startup investing here in recent years.

With the Directr acquisition, I thought I’d take the chance to review Google’s acquisition activity in Boston to get a sense for what is catching the company’s eye here. Thanks to CB Insights for providing the names of Google’s earliest Boston acquisitions. (I also added an important paragraph about Android after my initial posting — see below.)

Google’s Boston-area acquisitions

Genius Labs (aka the hiring of Biz Stone)

• Date: Oct. 2003

• Details: Then a blogger in Wellesley, Biz Stone jokingly wrote that Google had “acquired the entire staff” of Genius Labs after he was hired by the company. “Genius Labs was just me, and the tale of how I got acquired—i.e., hired—by Google says a lot about the spirit of the early social web,” Stone, who went on to co-found Twitter, wrote in a Wired post last year. 


Zingku, Waltham

• Date: Sept. 2007

• Details: Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed; the startup developed technology allowing mobile phone users to exchange “things of interest” including invitations and “mobile flyers” using text messaging and picture messaging.


ITA Software, Cambridge

• Date: April 2011

• Details: Acquired for $700 million; developed backend technology for easier air travel booking used by major airlines and services such as Kayak.com. The acquisition followed a year of regulatory reviews over whether the ITA technology in Google’s hands would stifle competition in the travel booking industry.


Flowing Media, Boston

• Date: Feb. 2012

• Details: Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed; the company provided interactive graphics and real-time displays of social media streams. Its founders joined Google to leaddata visualization research group.


Incentive Targeting, Cambridge

• Date: Nov. 2012

• Details: Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed; the startup developed software for retailers to offer customers targeted promotions. 


Boston Dynamics, Waltham

• Date: Dec. 2013

• Details: Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed. Founded in 1992, the company developed military robots which can run, walk, and imitate other human and animal movements. The acquisition has served as “the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care,” the New York Times wrote. Boston Dynamics’ robots include Atlas (pictured above), a high-mobility humanoid robot designed to negotiate rough outdoor terrain.


Stackdriver, Boston

• Date: May 2014

• Details: Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed, but one report put the price as high as $180 million. The company developed software for improving the performance of applications that run in the cloud.


Directr, Boston

• Date: Aug. 2014

• Details: Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed. Company offered an app for editing mobile video on the phone, with a version for both consumers and businesses. The app will continue to be offered by Google and will soon be free; previously, plans ran from $25 to $400 a month.


Update: I initially omitted an important acquisition — Android, which was based in California but had an office at the Cambridge Innovation Center occupied by co-founder Rich Miner (Scott Kirsner wrote about Miner and Android while they were in stealth mode in 2005). Following Google’s acquisition of Android in 2005, Miner convinced Google to set up an engineering office in Cambridge, he told me previously. That office formed the basis for to the company’s larger (and now much larger) campus in Kendall Square. Miner today leads the Cambridge arm of Google Ventures.

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