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Android co-founder Rubin leaving Google to lead startup incubator

Andy Rubin leaves Google and its ambitious robotics projects behind to return to another of his passions: building successful startups.

Google robotics honcho Andy Rubin is leaving the company. James Martin/CNET

The robots have a new leader.

Andy Rubin, who founded Google's Android mobile software, and less than a year ago was tapped to run the company's nascent robotics efforts, is leaving the Internet giant.

"I want to wish Andy all the best with what's next," Google CEO Larry Page said in a statement. "With Android he created something truly remarkable -- with a billion plus happy users. Thank you."

The departure is potentially a blow to the company's ambitions in robotics, where Google has made large investments, including the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, Atlas and at least a half dozen other companies. Page has made big bets in areas beyond its search and advertising business -- its biggest moneymaker -- as it looks for new sources of revenue.

James Kuffner, another member of the robotics group, will take over as head of the division, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news. Rubin is leaving Google to build an incubator for startups to build tech hardware, according to the Journal.

In 2010, Google research scientist Kuffner came up with the idea of cloud robotics, robots that leverage the Internet, crowdsourcing, and open-sourcing to expand their processing power and knowledge base. It's not hard to see how a cloud-connected robot that is gathering data in your home from all its various sensors could be a perambulating privacy violation waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, Rubin has made a career of building companies from scratch and tackling ambitious projects, often focused on robotics or mobile computing. He started at Google in 2005 when Page and company bought his mobile operating system startup Android. Rubin got his start as a robotics engineer at optics maker Carl Zeiss AG in 1986, and went on to work at Apple and Microsoft.

Rubin has been credited with turning Android into a serious competitor for Apple's iOS, which powers the iPhone. Android is now the most popular mobile operating system, running on more than 80 percent of the world's smartphones. Sundar Pichai took the helm of the Android team in March 2013 after Page announced that Rubin was going to work on another project for the company. That project turned out to be robotics.

Rubin told the New York Times in December 2013 that "computers are starting to sprout legs and move around in the environment." But such projects are "moonshots," Google's term for ambitious, out-there initiatives, Rubin told the newspaper, and that Google's efforts could produce results in a few years.

When the story was posted, Rubin tweeted, "The future is looking awesome!" He hasn't tweeted since.