It’s well known that Google engineers are allowed to spend 20 percent of their time working on projects of their choosing that won’t necessarily lead to a profit-making product or service. Now it appears that for a select few staff, working in secret, it’s more like 100 percent.
The New York Times today reports on a secret lab known as Google X where staff are working on 100 ideas that have a low chance of success, but could be revolutionary if they came off. It seems the project has an office in the main Google headquarters, plus a separate facility in a secret location for practical work.
According to reporters Nick Bilton and Claire Cain Miller, the account is based on interviews with 12 people who know about the project but were unwilling to be named or directly quoted. It’s hard to tell how much of the secrecy is genuinely needed and how much is simply there so that the project inherently looks more important and exciting.
From the details that have been released, the work at Google X is less about continuing to develop online services and more about translating existing Google technology into hardware, particularly robotics. (Cue Android gag.) For example, there’s talk of using robots to operate the Google Street View camera vehicles, though it’s not clear how they’d stand up to attacks from angry villagers.
The facility also appears to be housing further work on Google’s attempts to develop a car that could be operated by computer, with the human driver only stepping in for an emergency.
There are also said to be several projects involving using Internet access to remotely control a series of devices from a lightswitch (presumably as a home security measure) to a garden sprinkler: these both sound like things that would work fine with a simple scheduler, though the added controls could be useful if you are away from home longer than planned. There’s also talk of a remotely-controlled coffee pot, which is reminiscent of the birth of the webcam.
While unconfirmed by the story, there’s an implication Google X is also helping develop the idea of the space elevator, a somewhat outlandish concept (dating back to the 19th century) that effectively involves propelling a weight on the end of a 100,000 kilometer “ribbon” into space and then using the ribbon as a cheap method to transport devices such as satellites into orbit. The project even suggests eventually using the technique to get to Mars.