Project Loon aims to bring internet access to the two-thirds of the world.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, last month, thumbed his nose at Google for its various “moonshot” projects, currently housed at Google’s semi-secret X Labs. When Nadella was asked if Microsoft could learn a thing or two from X Labs, he said that there’s always something to learn from “from people who market themselves well.”
He was right to some degree. Project X creates a lot of hype for Google even though most of those projects aren’t quite ready for the public.
But you’ve still got to hand it to Google for being so ambitious about ventures others would label “implausible” to “impossible.”
Google has already changed the world with its various software services and platforms like Gmail, Google Maps, Android, and of course Google search, but what Google is working on next is even more awe inspiring.
The head-mounted optical display is one of the only projects to actually leave the Google X labs. Though it has some practical applications for searching and navigating, it’s still not quite ready for consumers just yet — it’s still in beta and has a prohibitive $1,500 price tag.
Still, Google’s wearable technology has found important enterprise, military and government uses. In June, Nepal’s government and military opted to use Google Glass to track its various wild animals, but also poachers that threatened the country’s endangered flora and fauna.
The first official X Labs project, Google has spent the last four years developing its autonomous cars with the help of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, even if “the technology is ahead of the law in many areas,” as one attorney for the California Department of Motor Vehicles put it to The New York Times.
Most recently, Google unveiled a new prototype of its self-driving car that has no wheels or pedals. Though it’s a cute design, Google said it aims on pitching its incredibly intelligent software, called Google Chauffeur, to automobile manufacturers, giving them the data and tools they need to bring the noble technology to market.
Smart Contact Lens
The lens, which contains a mini glucose sensor and a wireless chip, aims to help people living with diabetes by measuring the sugar levels in their tears.
It’s only been in development for two years now, but last month, Google announced it will be working with Novartis’ eye-care division called “Alcon” to bring the smart contact lens to market, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Like Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org initiative, Project Loon aims to bring internet access to the two-thirds of the world that don’t have it yet — except Google’s solution involves Wi-Fi enabled hot air balloons that remain in the stratosphere for about 100 days at a time to create a big 3G-like wireless network.
Though it’s faced a few bumps along the way, Project Loon actually reached its one-year milestone in mid-June. However, it’s not quite ready yet: Google’s X chief Astro Teller told Wired the company is improving the balloons’ flight times.
To organize the world’s data and multimedia, Google (with the help of its DeepMind acquisition) is working on giving computers “corresponding perception capabilities,” so machines can do things like “listen to soundtracks and music, and build descriptions of their perceptions.”
Google is constantly updating its research archives with new papers, describing how to do things like annotate images and video and be able to describe visual objects, but most recently, Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page sat down with VC Vinod Khosla last month to insist “we will be able to make machines that can reason, think and do things better than we can.”
Google previously invested in the green energy startup, but eventually purchased Makani Power last May and wrapped the team into its Google X Labs.
Google believes airborne wind turbines could be the dominant form of clean energy, and though the technology presents some serious challenges, the company currently has a working prototype. Google’s April purchase of drone maker Titan Aerospace will also reportedly help Makani achieve its goals of bringing clean, efficient wind-powered energy to the US.
Last September, Google launched its “absurdly ambitious” company called Calico, which is currently run by Arthur Levinson, the chairman and ex-CEO of biotech company Genentech, and the chair over at Apple. (Don’t worry, he got approval from Tim Cook first.)
Though the company is keeping its outlandish project under heavy wraps, Time magazine, which exclusively broke the story, says Google will likely employ its “core data-handling skills to shed new light on familiar age-related maladies.” In April, Google hired Cynthia Kenyon, a biochemist and biophysicist from the University of California in San Francisco, to help the company research new age-defying technologies.
The Artificial Neural Network
Similar to its “Machine Vision” project, Google’s neural network is based around the idea of creating a computer that can simulate what happens inside the human brain — but make it even more efficient.
Most recently, Google released a white paper describing how its neural networks can optimize operations within its many global data centers, but in January, it was also shown that Google’s neural network can even identify the hundreds of millions of street and house numbers to help its Google Street View users.
Robots for Business
Massachusetts-based robotics company Boston Dynamics used to make mobile research robots for the Pentagon, but as of December, they’re making robots for Google. The effort is being led by Andy Rubin, who originally built Google’s Android software.
The New York Times reports Google is experimenting with package delivery in urban areas, in a similar fashion to Amazon’s delivery drones, but to prepare for that possible eventuality, Google’s robots are currently training with the U.S. Marine Corps.