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SAN FRANCISCO — Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt is quite optimistic about the company’s work on robotics and autonomous vehicles. Speaking at the Box Dev developer conference here today, Schmidt put Google’s moves in context.

“We try to do things which are likely to produce big returns in five to 10 years, which solves some significant problems,” Schmidt said in a fireside chat with Box cofounder and chief executive Aaron Levie.

That covers big-picture research efforts on Google’s part, including medicine and drone delivery. And it helps make sense of acquisitions outside of Google’s core areas, like the Boston Robotics deal in 2013, giving Google one of the most prominent robotics groups in the country.

Schmidt didn’t want to talk too much about Google’s robotics strategy. But he did have this to say:

It just seems like automation, the use of AI, the use of intelligence makes people more productive and smarter and so forth. And there’s plenty of avenues to do that. Self-driving cars — we didn’t build cars. Cars are a very mature and well thought out industry. (We) added software and navigational capability and particularly high quality laser which runs on the top of the car. … We’re actually able to watch what’s going on better than you are. A laser sees better than the human eye, and, of course, it doesn’t get drunk.

That’s funny, but it’s also believable. Time will tell how much money Google will be able to make in the business of robots and self-driving cars.

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