Rubin left Google in 2014—a departure that friends say gave his always overclocked ambition an extra kick. “I think he would love for Larry Page to look back in five years and say, ‘Oh my God, I made a mistake in letting that guy go,’” Andreessen says.
A few months later, Rubin launched Playground Global—not just a new company but, he says, a new kind of company. Part of what makes Playground unusual is the way it’s structured. It has some qualities of an incubator and some qualities of a consulting firm, but it’s neither, really. Playground invests in hardware startups, yes. But instead of just providing funding and advice, Rubin offers them a centralized, all-star engineering department, staffed by seasoned technologists he’s worked with at Google, General Magic, Apple, and elsewhere. This team works side by side with Playground’s startups, building the hardware and software that will power their intelligent machines.
Playground’s ambitions extend far beyond building individual gadgets or even individual companies. Rubin wants Playground to become the factory that creates the standard building blocks—the basic quartermaster’s inventory of components—for the AI-infused future. And he wants to open up this platform of hardware and software tools so that anyone, not just the companies he works with directly, can create an intelligent device. If he’s successful, Playground stands to have the same kind of impact on smart machines that Android had on smartphones, providing the technological infrastructure for thousands of products and giving a generation of entrepreneurs the ability to build a smart drone. Or a house’s worth of intelligent appliances. Or, hell, a full-fledged robot.