NYT offers a peek inside Google's secret, robot-filled 'X' labs

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
Google's "X" lab, a highly-secretive research center that specializes in robotics and speculative technology, is investigating a list of 100 "shoot-for-the-stars ideas," according to a new report from The New York Times.



The lab is reportedly based in a secret location, with many of Google's own employees unaware of its existence. To uncover information about the group, the Times interviewed a dozen people about the project, none of whom were willing to be named.



One Google engineer familiar with the project said it was "run as mysteriously the C.I.A.," with an unassuming office for logistics located on the tech giant's Mountain View, Calif., campus, and a second undisclosed location for robots. The lab is also said to be modeled after the Xerox PARC labs that inspired Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley pioneers in the 1970s.



Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin reportedly worked together to come up with the list of ideas. Brin is said to be "deeply involved" in the lab, as was Page before he took over for Eric Schmidt as CEO in April.



Brin appeared to allude to the lab recently when he said that he spends his time on ?farther afield projects" that the company hopes will "graduate to important key businesses in the future.?



Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page



Both founders reportedly have had a "longtime fantasy" of space elevators that would collect data or transport objects into space. "Google is collecting the world?s data, so now it could be collecting the solar system?s data,? said Rodney Brooks, a professor emeritus at M.I.T.



Rather than the software-centric engineers Google has gathered together for other teams at the company, Google X is populated with roboticists and electrical engineers, the report noted, adding that researchers have been hired from Microsoft, Nokia Labs, Stanford, M.I.T., Carnegie Mellon and New York University.



Robotics and artificial intelligence expert Sebastian Thrun is said to be a leader at the lab. Thrun invented the first driverless car, a concept that has long intrigued Google's founders and is believed to be a key area of research for the lab. According to one tipster, Google is considering it as a new business opportunity and may go so far as to manufacture driverless cars in the U.S.



Also at Google X are Andrew Ng and Johnny Chung Lee. Ng, a Stanford professor, uses neuroscience to fuel artificial intelligence research in hopes of making robots more like humans. Lee, who worked on Microsoft's Kinect device before joining Google, apparently serves as a "rapid evaluator" for the lab.



Though much of the X lab's work is years away from being released, two of the report's sources said that one of its products will be released by the end of the year.



More mundane projects for the team include work on what Google calls the "Web of things," a method of connecting everyday objects to the Internet. Items considered for online connectivity include a garden planter, coffee pot and a light bulb, the Times reported. In fact, Google announced at its I/O conference in May that it plans to release an LED light bulb that can be controlled by Android devices.



As is to be expected, Google declined to comment officially on the lab, though a spokeswoman did say that interest in speculative projects is an essential part of the company. ?While the possibilities are incredibly exciting, please do keep in mind that the sums involved are very small by comparison to the investments we make in our core businesses,? she said.



Page himself has downplayed the size of the impact that Google's futuristic projects has on the company's bottom line. Investors have kept a close watch on Page since he took over, with some complaining that he didn't speak enough during his first earnings call as CEO in April.



?There are a few small, speculative projects happening at any one time, but we are very careful stewards of shareholders? money,? the executive said in July. ?We are not betting the farm on these.?



Financial analysts say investors are willing to put up with the research as long as Google's search profits remain healthy. ?These moon-shot projects are a very Google-y thing for them to do,? the report noted BGC Partners analyst Colin W. Gillis as saying. ?People don?t love it but they tolerate it because their core search business is firing away.?
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    Google's "X" lab, a highly-secretive research center that specializes in robotics and speculative technology, is investigating a list of 100 "shoot-for-the-stars ideas," according to a new report from The New York Times ...



    What a waste.



    All the ideas we know about (and those mentioned here as well), are more "pie-in-the-sky" than "shoot-for-the-stars."



    You wouldn't see Apple or Microsoft invest a thin dime into something as absolutely ridiculous as a space elevator, or any of the rest of these futurist daydreams.



    I wonder how much money was wasted on that Internet connected signalling light bulb alone? Millions probably, and all just to prove that it's possible to transmit data through a regular lightbulb.



    Who will install these lightbulbs? Why would anyone transmit data over a lightbulb? We are all supposed to buy these things and then that *one* scenario, when the internet is down, but electric power is still working, we will all turn to our kitchen lightbulbs to get data?



    Right. \
  • Reply 2 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post


    What a waste.



    All the ideas we know about (and those mentioned here as well), are more "pie-in-the-sky" than "shoot-for-the-stars."



    You wouldn't see Apple or Microsoft invest a thin dime into something as absolutely ridiculous as a space elevator, or any of the rest of these futurist daydreams.



    I wonder how much money was wasted on that Internet connected signalling light bulb alone? Millions probably, and all just to prove that it's possible to transmit data through a regular lightbulb.



    Who will install these lightbulbs? Why would anyone transmit data over a lightbulb? We are all supposed to buy these things and then that *one* scenario, when the internet is down, but electric power is still working, we will all turn to our kitchen lightbulbs to get data?



    Right. \





    i think its awesome that Google does stuff like this. Like you said, what other company would put money into projects like this that they wont see an immediate return on investment, if not ever, on. They are doing cool things because they are engineers in a position to put capital into their wacky ideas. If ANYTHING good comes from this, its a great thing in my opinon. more power to them.
  • Reply 3 of 68
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by blaquekyd View Post


    i think its awesome that Google does stuff like this. Like you said, what other company would put money into projects like this that they wont see an immediate return on investment, if not ever, on. They are doing cool things because they are engineers in a position to put capital into their wacky ideas. If ANYTHING good comes from this, its a great thing in my opinon. more power to them.



    Sure, but wouldn't it be even better of Google invested some money in creating something useful? Like making their own OS rather than blindly copying (and stealing) everything in sight?
  • Reply 4 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post


    What a waste.



    You wouldn't see Apple or Microsoft invest a thin dime into something as absolutely ridiculous as a space elevator, or any of the rest of these futurist daydreams.



    Well MS did "invent" a bigazz touch table, The Surface...







    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post


    I wonder how much money was wasted on that Internet connected signalling light bulb alone? Millions probably, and all just to prove that it's possible to transmit data through a regular lightbulb.



    Who will install these lightbulbs? Why would anyone transmit data over a lightbulb? We are all supposed to buy these things and then that *one* scenario, when the internet is down, but electric power is still working, we will all turn to our kitchen lightbulbs to get data?



    Right. \





    But those lights probably aren't the compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) that contain mercury, a toxin long associated with reproductive and neurological disorders. Once released into the environment through bulb breakage or improper disposal, mercury can convert into the highly-toxic methylmercury. This can accumulate in animal tissue, causing far-reaching environmental hazards. According to the EPA, a single environmental light bulb contains about five milligrams of mercury. Guidelines established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration list limits of 0.1 milligram of organic mercury per cubic meter. While over 86 percent of Americans have access to recycling programs, environmental light bulbs require special disposal procedures to minimize environmental impact. According to a 2007 Harris poll, one quarter of Americans do not recycle. Thus, despite regulation, environmental light bulbs are likely to end up in landfills.



    And those idiots, from the head idiot on down, say Republicans want dirty air and unclean water! Yeah right!!!



    Much rather have Google doing screwy things at their Google "X" lab, then the screwy things Washington is cramming down our throats! Private / Public Sector difference... One doesn't effect me or cost me anything, the other does!

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  • Reply 5 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    Google's "X" lab, a highly-secretive research center that specializes in robotics and speculative technology, is investigating a list of 100 "shoot-for-the-stars ideas," according to a new report from The New York Times.



    The lab is reportedly based in a secret location, with many of Google's own employees unaware of its existence. To uncover information about the group, the Times interviewed a dozen people about the project, none of whom were willing to be named.



    One Google engineer familiar with the project said it was "run as mysteriously the C.I.A.," with an unassuming office for logistics located on the tech giant's Mountain View, Calif., campus, [ View this article at AppleInsider.com ][/c]



    So is this where Google organises its "CIA" type raids to steal other peoples ideas and IP?
  • Reply 6 of 68
    These guys cant even develop a mobile OS that isnt fragmented.



    How are they going to make a space elevator?"
  • Reply 7 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post


    What a waste.



    All the ideas we know about (and those mentioned here as well), are more "pie-in-the-sky" than "shoot-for-the-stars."



    You wouldn't see Apple or Microsoft invest a thin dime into something as absolutely ridiculous as a space elevator, or any of the rest of these futurist daydreams.



    I wonder how much money was wasted on that Internet connected signalling light bulb alone? Millions probably, and all just to prove that it's possible to transmit data through a regular lightbulb.



    Who will install these lightbulbs? Why would anyone transmit data over a lightbulb? We are all supposed to buy these things and then that *one* scenario, when the internet is down, but electric power is still working, we will all turn to our kitchen lightbulbs to get data?



    Right. \



    One place I can see this lightbulb useful is in the security industry. The guard shows up to a security post along his rounds and his tablet shows up his whereabouts and lets central command know that he made the rounds. This will allow for tracking in indoor areas that have no GPS signal. How about LED traffic lights that communicates with a traffic software app on your android phone and gives real time traffic data without having to go through a central command center that is controlled through DOT. i am not sure the usefullness of these applications, but Google's main point is that they are using a common connection platform (a light socket) and converting it into a communication node. No need to lay extra cables or wires through out a city.
  • Reply 8 of 68
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 3,212member
    After perfecting the driverless car, perhaps the X lab workers will replace themselves. That would be magical.



    I'd be satisfied with self-shuffling cards. I know, pie-in-the-sky.
  • Reply 9 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Rot'nApple View Post


    Well MS did "invent" a bigazz touch table, The Surface...



    The Surface wasn't a daydream idea at all.



    The work that Microsoft put into Surface and other NUI projects around multi-touch interfaces and gestures found its way into real products like the Kinect, Windows Phone and soon Windows 8.



    A tidbit of trivia; the Kinect-like interface seen in Minority Report came from consultation between Spielberg and the Microsoft team.
  • Reply 10 of 68
    hill60hill60 Posts: 6,992member
    This "X-lab" is probably no more than an empty office with a photocopier, which explains the link to Xerox.
  • Reply 11 of 68
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 3,212member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Firefly7475 View Post


    The Surface wasn't a daydream idea at all.



    The work that Microsoft put into Surface [...]



    Uh, Microsoft bought Surface.
  • Reply 12 of 68
    In a post-Steve world, 20 years on, if/when robotics become a primary consumer focus, Google may be our new Apple.
  • Reply 13 of 68
    chris_cachris_ca Posts: 2,543member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    Google's "X" lab, a highly-secretive research center



    AKA Applidium, currently researching Siri on the iPhone 4S and how to get it to work on Android devices...
  • Reply 14 of 68
    majjomajjo Posts: 574member
    Wow, what's with all the hate?



    I'm sure Microsoft, Apple, IBM, et al. have similar 'skunkworks' type facilities as well.
  • Reply 15 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Woodlink View Post


    These guys cant even develop a mobile OS that isnt fragmented.



    How are they going to make a space elevator?"



    My question is who is going to step onto a space elevator that's in beta.
  • Reply 16 of 68
    I think it is great that someone is prepared to do this sort of 'bleeding edge' research. This is, of course, the role that universities used to play until the bookkeepers squeezed every picogram of innovative spirit out of them. So the question then becomes, isn't it better to have this sort of work done by universities who may be willing to share any new technologies with everyone rather than having big corporations hiding new technologies behind IP walls.
  • Reply 17 of 68
    I think a dedicated lab to making futuristic gagets is a waste of resources. If Sergy Brin wants to dabble in the unknown, he should use his own money, not shareholder's money. It doesn't matter if it isn't a very big percentage of revenue. The principle of waste not want not is more important.



    I think that companies should take risks when making products. However, the innovation should happen within the realm of a product that the company intends to market and sell in the forseeable future. The futuristic stuff that works is just as likely, if not more likely to come from people working on real world products as it is from a brain trust of rich kids playing with fancy lego sets.
  • Reply 18 of 68
    Well, someone ought to be sinking some money into this stuff, so why not Google? I want a robot girlfriend before I'm too old to enjoy her, goddammit.
  • Reply 19 of 68
    Every time I come to read this forum, it kills me. It's kind of like looking in from an observation window at a psych ward -- some of you are truly out to lunch and obviously exist in a reality parallel to the one the rest of one live in.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post


    Uh, Microsoft bought Surface.



    Uh, No.
  • Reply 20 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Woodlink View Post


    These guys cant even develop a mobile OS that isnt fragmented.



    How are they going to make a space elevator?"



    And Apple can't even make a phone that maintains a majority of marketshare.



    It's fun making super selective and irrelevant arguments, isn't it?
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