BAL0011, the Portland, Maine barge
|Builders:||C & C Marine and Repair|
|Length:||249.6 feet (76.1 m)|
|Beam:||72 feet (22 m)|
|Depth:||16 feet (4.9 m)|
The Google barges are a group of four floating barges built between 2010 and 2012, commissioned by Google to serve as "an interactive space where people can learn about new technology", possibly as luxury showrooms for Google Glass and other products, on an invitation-only basis. As of March 2014, two of the barges are docked in the Port of Stockton in Stockton, California after being forced to leave the San Francisco Bay, while another is in Portland, Maine.
The Portland barge and the Stockton Port barge have a superstructure consisting of four stories of modern shipping containers welded together. Most of the containers have small slits that may serve as windows, and each barge has a container that slants down to ground level at a shallow angle. The other two barges are owned by the same corporation (set up by Google) but do not have a superstructure. CBS sources claimed that the first three floors will serve as a showroom, while the upper floor will be a party deck. The Stockton Port structure exhibits poles at the top that may be antennas, and it will be equipped to gigantic sails while being moved among sites in the San Francisco Bay Area as a "temporary technology exhibit space" to "drive visitation to the waterfront".
As of October 31, 2013, no work was being done on the barges. On November 1, land-based construction of a superstructure near the second San Francisco barge had apparently commenced. Google may be building the structures on barges to avoid mandatory city building permits and public plans that may disclose its purpose.
On August 1, 2014, the barge in Portland was sold.
The earliest revealed barge, BAL0011, was built in 2011 and was first spotted in New London, Connecticut, where Turner Construction started construction of the superstructure in May 2013, according to The Day. Another barge of identical size was docked behind it, but no superstructure was visible, and workers hadn't been there in several weeks. The local Coast Guard refused to provide additional information on the barge, which led The Day to file a FOIA request with the Coast Guard for documents on the project. It was thus revealed that on July 1, 2013, Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound took part in a conference call with Michael Tierney of Google Glass, and that the vessel will be operated from port to port, starting with New York Harbor. The containers had been shipped from San Francisco to be assembled in New London.
On October 9, 2013, the barge was tugged to Portland, Maine, where it arrived the next day. Cianbro Corp., a general services contractor, was scheduled to perform "a significant amount of interior work, including the installation of undisclosed technological equipment" on the structure, without offloading it from the barge. Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of Cianbro, refused to discuss any details, but stated that the final destination of the barge was not Maine.
On October 25, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman chronicled his visit to Treasure Island, San Francisco, a former U.S. Navy base, where a very similar barge (BAL0010) was moored, and where a construction facility called Hangar 3 is located. Satellite imagery showed shipping containers being amassed at Hangar 3, and later moved onto a floating barge moored alongside the adjacent pier. Terdiman uncovered the link to By And Large LLC (a possible reference to "Buy N Large", the fictional mega-corporation in the 2008 film WALL-E, or simple rhyming slang for "barge"), a dummy company set up by Google. By And Large leased a total of 727,000 sq. ft for US$80,000/month plus a US$158,000 security deposit. A few hours later, Terdiman also linked the San Francisco barge to the Portland barge, identified as BAL0011.
On the same day, KPIX-TV/CBS cited sources close to Google claiming the barge would be a "marketing center for Google Glass" and once completed, it will be towed to Fort Mason and open to public access. However, construction had stopped several weeks previously due to a lack of permits. A San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission official (later identified in a video interview as executive director Larry Goldzband), was quoted as saying that Google discussed "hypothetical operations" but hasn't stated the exact purpose of the barge, which is necessary for the issuance of a permit for waterfront docking.
On October 30, CNBC's Josh Lipton reported that the Coast Guard confirmed the structure is associated with Google, but wouldn't comment further. Other US Coast Guard Sector San Francisco officials confirmed and later retracted the Google connection, while confirming that the Coast Guard did visit the Treasure Island barge.
Although it's still early days and things may change, we're exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology.
The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle published a set of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the Port of San Francisco, which confirm the use of the Treasure Island barge as a "temporary technology exhibit space" by By and Large LLC.
In 2007, Google filed a patent for a "water-based data center", consisting of a computer data center, a wave-based electrical generator, and sea-water cooling units, grouped into floating platforms and support systems. The ensemble would float three to seven miles offshore in water 50 to 70 meters (160 to 230 ft) deep. The support systems would use ocean water for cooling and wave-motion machines such as the Pelamis Wave Energy Converter to create electricity. The patent was granted on April 28, 2009.
List of barges
All four barges were built by C & C Marine and Repair, have a hull depth of 16 ft, are owned by BY AND LARGE LLC (apparently a shell company set up by Google), were previously owned by CIBCO BARGE LINE LLC, and list San Francisco as their hailing port.
|Name||USCG Doc. No.||Type||Year built||Length||Breadth||Gross tonnage||Last known location||Documentation issuance date||Previous vessel names||Notes|
|BAL0001||1225102||Freight barge||2010||249.6 ft||72 ft||2164||Treasure Island, San Francisco[when?]||September 12, 2013||CIB 721||No superstructure but container outfit and assembly has started|
|BAL0010||1233697||Passenger barge (inspected)||2011||260.1 ft||72.1 ft||2520||Treasure Island[when?]||January 29, 2013||CIB 723||The barge that generated the wide press coverage. Google envisioned it to be a "temporary technology exhibit space" and "unprecedented artistic structure", adorned with gigantic sails, to be moored for a month at a time at sites around the San Francisco Bay Area to "drive visitation to the waterfront". Later, the barge would be sailed to San Diego and other West Coast ports. The design was done by Gensler and LOT-EK.|
|BAL0011 (sold)||1230780||Passenger barge (inspected)||2011||260.1 ft||72.1 ft||2520||Boston Harbor, Boston, Massachusetts[when?]||February 12, 2013||CIB 722||New update by Portland Press Herald. Barge sold and towed to Boston harbor, onward destination unknown.|
|BAL0100||1243694||Freight barge||2012||249.6 ft||72 ft||2164||New London, Connecticut[when?]||September 12, 2013||CIB 724||No superstructure|
Three other freight barges of identical specifications built by C&C Marine and owned or previously owned by CIBCO BARGE LINE LLC exist - CIB 100, CIB 101, and CIB 725, all with a hailing port of New Orleans.
It should be noted that the two Barges getting public attention, the media have been allowed to talk about and publish pictures of one, both specifically state in their ship registration that they are "limited" from off shore use. Second, the other two of four, that no one is reporting on, has posted photos of, and not found in Google searches, do not have such restrictions.
For the two weeks following their unveiling by CNET, Google had refused to comment on the purpose of the barges. On November 6, 2013, Google stated it was "exploring using the [San Francisco] barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology."
Before Google's statement, one speculative hypothesis was that the barges would be towed from city to city, along the coast and via rivers, to serve as stores for Google Glass. Arguments for this hypothesis included statements from sources close to Google and from Fort Mason officials, where Google discussed docking one of the barges. A Google Glass official, Michael Tierney, was documented to have discussed the project with the Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound. CNET speculated that the unusual container-based structure would be counteracting Apple's architectural style (usually open and filled with natural light), The Portland structure does appear to include open space. Arguments against included the lack of exits, and the impracticality of building a store out of shipping containers that partition the interior space.
Another hypothesis was that the barges would serve as near-shore sea-faring data centers utilizing wave energy for power, and sea water for cooling servers. Reasons given include Google's 2009 patent for water-based data centers, the established practice of using shipping containers to house servers, Google's history of locating data centers in places with inexpensive cooling, Google's previous use of seawater for natural cooling at its Hamina, Finland data center, the absence of windows in the containers (making them less suitable for human habitation), and Google's history of secrecy regarding its data centers, a core competitive advantage. According to CNET, an independent marine engineer who was involved in a project to build a water-based backup data center for Google several years ago, stated that Google may be completing the project.
- Investigative reporting video of BAL0011 in Portland, Maine - Portland Press Herald, October 29, 2013
- Helicopter shot of BAL0001 and BAL0010 near Treasure Island - CBS, October 28, 2013
- Video of construction at Hangar 3 in Treasure Island, with cross-section of the BAL0010 superstructure - KTVU, uncertain date
- Close-up shots of BAL0010 and the superstructure for BAL0001 - Mail Online, November 1, 2013
- Video of BAL0010 in Treasure Island - October 25, 2013
- Video of BAL0011 being towed to Portland, Maine - October 9, 2013
- "Google Says Its Mystery Barges May Be Used As Interactive Space Where People Can Learn About Its Technology". TechCrunch.
- "Google's mysterious secret barges off US coasts: THE TRUTH". The Register.
- "Google ends mystery: barge to be 'interactive space'". Agence France-Presse.
- Ken Bastida (October 31, 2013). "Google’s Secret Revealed: Barge To Offer High-End Showrooms, Party Deck". CBS.
- "Google barge mystery unfurled". SFGate. November 8, 2013.
- Daniel Terdiman (October 31, 2013). "Google's barges: The mystery treads water on two coasts". CNET.
- MARK PRIGG (November 1, 2013). "EXCLUSIVE: They're multiplying! THIRD mystery Google barge found lurking in San Francisco bay as MailOnline takes the closest look yet at secret 'party boats'... followed every step of the way by security guards". Mail Online.
- "Google’s Secrecy Surrounding Barge May Backfire". November 5, 2013.
- Jennifer McDermott (September 28, 2013). "So ... what's the big secret out at State Pier?". The Day.
- Jennifer McDermott (October 31, 2013). "New London mystery solved: Floating structure linked to Google". The Day (New London).
- Jennifer McDermott (October 9, 2013). "Mysterious building, barge leave Thames River for Maine". The Day.
- Tom Bell (October 23, 2013). "Clues emerge about mystery structure on barge in Portland Harbor". Portland Press Herald.
- "Hangar 3". City & County of San Francisco - Treasure Island Development Authority.
- Daniel Terdiman (October 25, 2013). "Is Google building a hulking floating data center in SF Bay?". CNET.
- Daniel Terdiman (October 25, 2013). "Google could have a floating data center in Maine, too". CNET.
- Tom Bell (October 26, 2013). "Mystery Portland barge and San Francisco barge appear linked". Portland Press Herald.
- Allen Martin (October 28, 2013). "Google Reportedly Building More Floating Structures Outside Bay Area Google Reportedly Building More Floating Structures Outside Bay Area". CBS.
- Allen Martin (October 25, 2013). "Massive Barge On San Francisco Bay Likely Secret Google Facility". CBS.
- "Google’s mystery barge causes stir in San Francisco". Today.
- Ronnie Cohen and Alexei Oreskovic (October 29, 2013). "Google takes secrecy to new heights with mystery barge". Reuters.
- "Coast Guard confirms Google involvement in mystery barge". Portland Press Herald. October 30, 2013.
- "Coast Guard Statement Regarding Barge BAL0010". 11th Coast Guard District PAO. October 31, 2013.
- Casey Newton (October 31, 2013). "Google plans to dock mystery barge at former Army post in San Francisco". The Verge.
- US patent 7525207,, Clidaras, Jimmy; Stiver, David W. & Hamburgen, William, "Water-based data center", published 2008-08-28, issued 2009-04-28, assigned to Google Inc. (at Google Patents)
- Tom Bell (October 29, 2013). "Mystery barges offer more clues, jokes that a geek would love". Portland Press Herald.
- "Vessel Documentation Search By Name". NOAA Fisheries: Office of Science & Technology. October 30, 2013.
- Daniel Terdiman (October 27, 2013). "San Francisco's bay barge mystery: Floating data center or Google Glass store?". CNET.
- Daniel Terdiman (June 29, 2006). "Jostling to get inside Google's Oregon outpost". CNET.
- "Water and cooling". Efficiency: How we do it. Google.
- "Google Throws Open Doors to Its Top-Secret Data Center". Wired (magazine). October 17, 2012.
For years Google didn't share what it was up to. "Our core advantage really was a massive computer network, more massive than probably anyone else's in the world", says Jim Reese, who helped set up the company's servers. "We realized that it might not be in our best interest to let our competitors know."