Astro Teller Leads Google X

Brad Stone’s piece in Business Week on Google’s secret lab wouldn’t be the first thing I’ve read on the topic, but it’s worth a read nonetheless:

Some of the real projects in Google X sound almost as outlandish. Makani Power’s newest airborne turbine prototype, called Wing 7, is a 26-foot-long carbon-fiber contraption with four electricity-generating propellers that flies in circles at altitudes of 800 to 2,000 feet, sending power down a lightweight tether to a base station. “If we’re successful, we can get rid of a huge part of the fossil fuels we use,” says Damon Vander Lind, the startup’s chief engineer. Vander Lind acknowledges it might not work, but: “If you don’t take that chance, and put a decade of your life trying to do it, no progress will get made.”

Then there’s X’s still-secret project to bring Internet access to undeveloped parts of the world. A decade ago, David Grace, a senior research fellow at the University of York, spearheaded a project to mount broadband transmitters on high-altitude balloons, as part of a multicountry initiative backed by the European Commission, called the Capanina Consortium. The initiative never progressed beyond the experimental stage. Grace now says that he has heard that Google is working on such balloon-based broadband technology.

Last month, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt made the surprising pronouncement that “by the end of the decade, everyone on earth will be connected to the Internet.” Skeptics immediately noted that 60 percent of the world is not yet online and that there are many countries without even reliable telecommunications grids. Teller won’t confirm or even discuss such a project, though he concedes that wiring the planet would fall squarely into Google X’s purview. Grace says, “It does need the Googles of the world to push this forward.”

Perhaps the strangest thing about Google X? The man who runs it is named Astro Teller. You can’t make this stuff up.

Google Glasses are Coming

In a time when many of us are trying to find ways to disconnect from the online world, Google wants to barrage us with an invention they will unveil later this year: Google Glasses. The New York Times has the scoop:

According to several Google employees familiar with the project who asked not to be named, the glasses will go on sale to the public by the end of the year. These people said they are expected “to cost around the price of current smartphones,” or $250 to $600.

The people familiar with the Google glasses said they would be Android-based, and will include a small screen that will sit a few inches from someone’s eye. They will also have a 3G or 4G data connection and a number of sensors including motion and GPS.

Seth Weintraub, a blogger for 9 to 5 Google, who first wrote about the glasses project in December, and then discovered more information about them this month, also said the glasses would be Android-based and cited a source that described their look as that of a pair of Oakley Thumps.

They will also have a unique navigation system. “The navigation system currently used is a head tilting to scroll and click,” Mr. Weintraub wrote this month. “We are told it is very quick to learn and once the user is adept at navigation, it becomes second nature and almost indistinguishable to outside users.”

The glasses will have a low-resolution built-in camera that will be able to monitor the world in real time and overlay information about locations, surrounding buildings and friends who might be nearby, according to the Google employees. The glasses are not designed to be worn constantly — although Google expects some of the nerdiest users will wear them a lot — but will be more like smartphones, used when needed.

The project is currently being built in the a secretive laboratory of Google X. What can I say? This is something that I am not looking forward to (unlike the self-driving cars). On a related note: what happened to Google+? I’ve essentially stopped using the service.

Google X, a Top Secret Lab

I’ve known that Google has a lot of secret projects up its sleeve, and this New York Times piece provides some further guidance:

It’s a place where your refrigerator could be connected to the Internet, so it could order groceries when they ran low. Your dinner plate could post to a social network what you’re eating. Your robot could go to the office while you stay home in your pajamas. And you could, perhaps, take an elevator to outer space.

These are just a few of the dreams being chased at Google X, the clandestine lab where Google is tackling a list of 100 shoot-for-the-stars ideas. In interviews, a dozen people discussed the list; some work at the lab or elsewhere at Google, and some have been briefed on the project. But none would speak for attribution because Google is so secretive about the effort that many employees do not even know the lab exists.

The driverless cars are a number of years away from formal introduction into the marketplace…But until then, this sounds like a bad idea:

Google could sell navigation or information technology for the cars, and theoretically could show location-based ads to passengers as they zoom by local businesses while playing Angry Birds in the driver’s seat.

Apparently, Google X operates both at Google’s campus in Mountain View, CA and in an undisclosed top-secret location. Hmm.

So who’s involved with Google X?

A leader at Google X is Sebastian Thrun, one of the world’s top robotics and artificial intelligence experts, who teaches computer science at Stanford and invented the world’s first driverless car. Also at the lab is Andrew Ng, another Stanford professor, who specializes in applying neuroscience to artificial intelligence to teach robots and machines to operate like people.

I received an email from Thrun over the weekend, regarding my progress in the online Artificial Intelligence course. Unfortunately, I ended up pursuing other interests in the last couple of weeks and had to drop the course. It was excellent from the three weeks in which I actively participated in it, however.