Raising the Standard.

Behind Closed Doors

From the Google vault. (Photo: Carlos Luna)

Somewhere, some place, a scientific genius and his horde of dedicated companions work tirelessly to create a utopia of autonomous robots and personal technology.  This may seem like the stuff of science fiction — long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, etc. —, but something of the sort exists here, on Earth.

Situated in an undisclosed location in the California Bay area, there lies a compound of robots and men living together in harmony while working on “moon shot” ideas that tickle the child-like imagination inside each of us. The aptly named Google[x] has become the search giant’s own personal Batcave of ideas, with Google funneling around $900 million into its clandestine ventures in 2011.

Some of the projects that were begun shortly after its creation have already surfaced in public, such as Project Glass.  This highly touted optical accessory is poised to revolutionize the way users interact with their activity space: personal Heads-Up Displays [HUDs] have finally been realized.

Alhough most techies with their ear to the ground have likely heard of Google’s Glass project, far fewer have heard of two more recent releases from the incognito brain trust in California.  First is the autonomous automobile, the pride and joy of the artificial intelligence sector.  The “auto” automobile will be just that — a car capable of moving from point A to point B without a human pressing the brake, swerving to avoid little Jimmy playing in the street or getting lost because the omniscient driver refuses to inquire about directions.

THE EDITORS: What’s in a name?

Second is the more ambitious — and ludicrous — Project Loon.  In response to the somewhat murky U.N. declaration of the right to “broadband,” a project was started to provide internet access to every person on the planet. While that goal is lofty, to say the least, Project Loon is closer to getting off the ground than many realize.  The concept is brilliantly simple: take a specialized balloon and attach to it an incredibly strong Wi-Fi transmitter and GPS, and then let it drift into the stratosphere.  Tests in rural New Zealand have confirmed that the balloons provide an Internet radius of about 40 miles, all while sitting above 99 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. Google is able to control balloons and guide them into distinct wind streams from the ground by processing petabytes upon petabytes of atmospheric data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA].

This is just a taste of the early projects coming to fruition out of Google’s mysterious research laboratory. Many more projects are rumored to exist, ranging from a completely-automated domestic sphere (think  Google Home) to a space elevator. The elevator idea is spurred on by the fact that it currently costs around $5,250 to ship a kilogram of sugar to the International Space Station [ISS] by rocket, whereas an elevator could lower the cost to only $100. Such an advance would make feasible extraterrestrial ventures like space mining and even the colonization of other worlds.

While the ventures being pursued at Google[x] are still highly classified, and even a great number of Google employees have never heard of the department, the future will tell what happens at the intersection of imagination, fiduciary motive — and massive amounts of funding.

—Chris Donaldson is a senior studying physics and computer science

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