Several news sources, chief among them Business Insider and the New York Times, have recently written about a clandestine Google laboratory dedicated to pursuing futuristic products and ideas. Although only a small percentage of the company’s resources go to such pursuits, the high risks and possible rewards of the laboratory’s work are just as potentially world-changing as they are fascinating.
The laboratory, known colloquially as Google X and kept secret even from many of the company’s employees, is divided into two offices: one for logistics and one for robots. The former office is situated on Google’s main campus in Mountain View, CA. The robotics division, however, is located in a secret location elsewhere in the Bay Area.
Due to the secrecy involved, little is known about those who work at Google X. According to sources, most of them have degrees in robotics or electrical engineering, and they came to Google from America’s top tech companies and universities. The New York Times also cited two Stanford professors, Sebastian Thrun and Andrew Ng, as being affiliated with the lab.
The secret nature of Google X has also, not surprisingly, limited the information available regarding actual projects going on inside its walls. A few, however, can be discerned based on reports from a range of websites and news sources. Of the ones that we know, here are the five top projects in the works at Google X:
1. Driverless Cars
The driverless car is probably the least secretive idea being investigated at Google X, considering that the car received extensive media coverage after hitting the California freeways for test drives last year. It is also probably one of the ideas that is closest to fruition; according to Google employees, the company has explored manufacturing and selling the car itself. A society with driverless cars, consequently, could only be a few years away. The introduction of the driverless car would have considerable ramifications across society, impacting everything from traffic engineering and street signs down to the value of Arizona car title loans. For this reason it is number 1 on our list.
Scientists and science fiction writers have long envisioned a world populated by robots, and Google X is at the forefront of this research. While the company believes that its investment in robot research can help its core businesses – for example, by sending robots out to take Street View pictures for Google Maps – it is also believed that intelligent bots can, in the near future, perform household tasks and allow people to attend work without physically being there.
3. Space Elevators
A project long-pursued by Google’s founders, a space elevator would involve a cable that is anchored to the Earth on one end and extends far into space on the other. This “elevator” would allow travel without space rockets, thereby facilitating the collection of solar data and the transmission of satellites and information into outer space from the Earth. There’s no word on how far along this project currently stands.
4. Intelligent Refrigerators
Google X envisions a world where everything is someday connected to the internet. This includes refrigerators, which can then be programmed to notice when certain foods or drinks are running low, order replacements from a grocery service, and notify its owner in the process. It is hoped that, at some point in the future, the fridge will be able to communicate a need to the household robot, which will then go grocery shopping and restock the refrigerator without the humans even noticing.
5. Remote-Controlled Everything
Along a similar line of thinking, Google X wants to connect other appliances and items to the internet so that they can be remotely controlled. A home lighting system, for example, could be turned on and off remotely while the residents are out of town. In the same vein, a garden watering system connected to the web could water the plants with merely a click of the mouse.
These are only a few of the one hundred projects currently ongoing at Google X. It is likely that most of these projects will fail and never make it to the public eye. But those that do, it’s not a stretch to say, could certainly change the world and the way we live our lives.