Google Dabbles in Dream Tech in Hush-Hush X Lab

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Google is experimenting in some rather large-minded projects, if a recent report is to be believed. Somewhere in the San Francisco area, Google researchers are studying technologies that could lead to constructions such as a space elevator, according to the report. It’s also apparently where Google’s trying to make its driverless car suitable for mass use.

    Google scientists are laboring away on futuristic projects in a top-secret lab somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, The New York Times claims.

    This lab, which is apparently so hush-hush that few Googlers even knew it existed prior to the report, is allegedly called “Google X.”

    More than 100 futuristic projects are said to be under way there.

    These include a space elevator project, experiments working to connect home appliances and dinner dishes to the Internet, robots that can go to work instead of their owners, and the development of driverless cars for the mass market.

    Google Cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who’s also CEO, are reportedly involved in the lab, together with other top executives, including Chairman Eric Schmidt.

    Google didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time.

    What Might Google Do?

    Research in the Google X lab reportedly includes work on a space elevator, a system capable of lifting a payload miles into the sky in order to put it in orbit, which could theoretically be more efficient than sending it via a spacecraft launch. The top of the elevator would be attached to Earth by an immense cable.

    Such a concept has been a staple of science fiction for some time, and the problems to be overcome include the immense weight of a miles-long cable and the mechanical system that can operate a car vertically over such a great distance.

    Connecting home appliances to the Internet is another idea that’s been batted around in the past. It’s part of the vision of the Internet of Things. This is a term first used by technology pioneer Kevin Ashton in 1999, when the IEEE began discussing the need to replace IPv4 with IPv6 because it feared IPv4 Internet addresses would run out due to the rapid growth of Internet access.

    “In many of the scenarios discussed in the New York Times article, we’re talking about a highly personalized version of what IBM (NYSE: IBM) has been pushing as the Smarter Planet,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.

    The Smarter Planet is IBM’s vision of a wired-up planet where massive amounts of data are collected to let governments proactively make decisions about maintaining and running the infrastructure. The IT infrastructure would be provided by IBM, of course.

    Google’s Got Tomorrow Today

    Google earlier this year announced Android@Home, an initiative that lets Android apps discover, connect and communicate with appliances and devices in the household.

    As part of that, Google introduced Android Open Accessory so devs can build new hardware accessories that work across all Android devices.

    Earlier this year, Nevada became the first state in which driverless vehicles can be legally operated on public roads, a law that was passed after pressure on the state legislature from Google. However, other states haven’t rushed to follow suit.

    Their objections to putting driverless cars on the road include the lack of laws to cover the technology.

    Fallout From the Future

    Equipping home appliances with always-on Internet connectivity “would come with considerable intrusions into people’s privacy,” John M. Simpson, director, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project, told TechNewsWorld.

    User controls so that people can decide whether or not they want to share information through their appliances, and how much information they want to share, are essential, Simpson added.

    Legal authorities might also need to get involved, Pund-IT’s King suggested.

    “The type of information that would be collected, generated and probably stored in order to create the necessary dataset to generate an automated response would provide an incredible insight into individuals’ private lives,” King warned.

    Driverless cars would open whole new areas of the law when they hit the mass market.

    “Once you put these things out onto the open road, it’s going to create whole new areas of liability that are going to ensure the livelihood of lawyers going into the Nth generation,” King remarked.

    A driverless car from Google caused a five-car crash back in August near the Googleplex headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., although Google claimed a person was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.

    “I’d have to assume there are probably law firms in New York where the champagne is being opened and Google is being toasted,” King added.

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