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Google X, stylized as Google[x], is a semi-secret research and development facility run by Google. It is located about a half mile from Google's corporate headquarters, the Googleplex, in Mountain View, California. Work at the lab is overseen by Sergey Brin, one of Google's co-founders and President of Alphabet, while scientist and entrepreneur Astro Teller (Captain of Moonshots) directs day-to-day activities. The lab started up in 2010 with the development of a self-driving car.
On 2 October 2015, Google shifted control of X Labs from Google Inc. to Alphabet Inc. under a corporate restructuring. Google Life Sciences, a former division of Google X, subsequently became a direct independent subsidiary of Alphabet.
While Google X projects are often referred to as "moonshots" within the company, not all so-described moonshots are part of Google X. For example, Calico, Google's life extension project, is considered a moonshot but is not a part of Google X. The same is true of Google's project to build robots for businesses.
In mid-2014, Google said there were eight projects being developed at Google X. As of late 2014, Google X projects that have been revealed include:
Project Self-Driving Car
The Google driverless car is a project by Google that involves developing technology for driverless cars. The project was led by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View. Thrun's team at Stanford created the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and its US$2 million prize from the United States Department of Defense. The team developing the system consisted of 15 engineers working for Google, including Chris Urmson, Mike Montemerlo, and Anthony Levandowski, who had worked on the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges.
The U.S. state of Nevada passed a law in June 2011 concerning the operation of driverless cars in Nevada. Google had been lobbying for driverless car laws. The license was issued to a Toyota Prius modified with Google's experimental driver-less technology. In August 2012, the team announced that they have completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles accident-free, typically have about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and are starting to test them with single drivers instead of in pairs.
Project Wing is a project that aims to rapidly deliver products across a city by using flying vehicles, similar to the Amazon Prime Air concept. At the time of the announcement on August 28, 2014, it had already been in development secretly at Google for about two years, with full-scale testing being carried out in Australia. The flying vehicles take off vertically, then rotate to a horizontal position for flying around. For delivery, it hovers and winches packages down to the ground. At the end of the tether is a little bundle of electronics which detects that the package has hit the ground, detaches from the delivery, and is pulled back up into the body of the vehicle. Dropping the cargo or landing were found to be unfeasible, as users compromised the safety.
Project Glass is a research and development program by Google to develop an augmented reality head-mounted display (HMD). The intended purpose of Project Glass products would be the hands-free displaying of information currently available to most smartphone users, and allowing for interaction with the Internet via natural language voice commands.
In October 2013, the existence of four Google barges was revealed, with the vessels registered under the dummy corporation By And Large. Two of the barges have a superstructure whose construction has been kept under the utmost secrecy, while speculations indicate they could be used as marketing for, and stores for, Google Glass.
Project Loon is a project that aims to bring internet access to everyone by creating an internet network of balloons flying through the stratosphere. It uses wireless routers in balloons that are above weather and planes to give access to the internet to those who can't reach it or are in need of help.
Projects that Google X has considered and rejected include a space elevator, which was deemed to be currently unfeasible; a hoverboard, which was determined to be too costly relative to the societal benefits; a user-safe jetpack, which was thought to be too loud and energy-wasting; and teleportation, which was found to violate the laws of physics.
A number of companies have been acquired and merged into Google X. These include Makani Power, Redwood Robotics, Meka Robotics, Boston Dynamics, and Jetpac covering a diverse range of skills including wind turbines, robotics, artificial intelligence, humanoid robots, robotic arms, and computer vision. For instance in 2013 Google X acquired Makani Power, a US company which develops tethered wings/kites with mounted wind turbines for low cost renewable energy generation. In 2014, they acquired product design and mechanical engineering firm Gecko Design whose previous products include the Fitbit activity tracker and low-cost computers. As of 2015, Google X has acquired 14 companies.
A reporter from Bloomberg Businessweek visited the site in 2013 and described it as "ordinary two-story red-brick buildings about a half-mile from Google’s main campus. There's a burbling fountain out front and rows of company-issued bikes, which employees use to shuttle to the main campus."
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"A group of us from Google[x] started Project Glass to build this kind of technology…"
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