Google X: The Secret Google Lab

What Does Google Use Its Secret X Lab For?

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: A bicyclist rides by a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California.
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Google has a secret skunkworks lab called Google X. It's where the company cooks up things like space elevators, robotics projects, and the infamous self-driving car.

The Google lab is slightly less secret since reports first broke the story on it, although Google X still doesn't divulge the full list of projects they're working on. Some are many years down the line, and some may never come to fruition. 

Google/Alphabet has been increasingly interested in consumer products, robotics, and space exploration. Google has insane amounts of money, and Google's founders love big ideas. As far as it goes, the ideas with some press coverage are not that far-fetched. Some may be difficult, but they're not inconceivable.

Google X also happens to be the name of a failed Google labs project.

Loon 

Loon is Google's idea for extending internet access into remote areas by way of weather balloons. Behind the scenes, this Google X project aims to raise cell towers into the stratosphere to deliver broader coverage.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, only one out of every two people have internet access, meaning that billions of the world's population have zero connectivity to the internet. With Loon, Google hopes to provide connectivity to rural areas and parts of the world that have experienced disasters that have disconnected them from the internet.

Loon "graduated" from X in July 2018, to become its own company under Alphabet.

Makani

Makani is a project started in 2006 to create kites that generate energy. Basically, the kites are tethered wind turbines, which would theoretically be more efficient than conventional, anchored turbines.

According to the World Energy Council, only four percent of the world's electricity comes from wind power even though the world could be powered by wind 100 times over.

Wing

You may know about Amazon's drone delivery project. Well, as it turns out, Google has a drone delivery project, too, called Wing.

Wing has an unusual design. Rather than the usual straightforward helicopter or quadcopter approach favored by other drones, Wing launches from a position sitting on its tail (like rockets launch, but without the super high velocity) and then turns to a horizontal position when it's in the air. It then turns back to the vertical position to hover for delivery. 

Package delivery is also a bit different. Rather than landing, the drone hovers in place vertically and then lowers the package to the ground by a cable. It detects when the package has hit land and then releases it from the cable. The cable is then raised back into the drone, which turns back to horizontal position to zoom away. 

This delivery mechanism solves a couple of problems. Dropping things from great heights would obviously be dangerous to the payload and any objects or people who happened to be beneath it. Lowering a bladed drone in any populated area is also dangerous.

Google states that they are still "many years away" from turning this into a commercial project. Don't be surprised if Google even abandons the notion without launching it. Such is the nature of crazy ideas or "moonshots" as Google refers to them.

Aside from competing with Amazon in drone delivery service, Google could use the drones for humanitarian aid, such as delivering medicine to areas experiencing epidemic outbreaks or delivering items to particularly remote areas that aren't easily accessible by other means. In fact, the future of Google's Project Wing may be brighter in areas outside the United States, where increasing distrust of drones (both over safety and spying concerns) would make setting up a delivery service much more difficult. The last thing Google needs is another privacy scare. 

Like Loon, Wing became a business within Alphabet in July 2018.

Waymo

Self-driving cars will be huge one day, potentially saving lives by removing human error from the equation (94 percent of all accidents are because of human error). Google is one of the first to get started in the self-driving car field, and they call this project Waymo.

Google's Waymo works through sensors positioned all around the car — on the top, front, and the sides — which work even at night to have a constant 360-degree view all around the vehicle at all times. The onboard computer is the brains behind the operation so that the car is always in full alert mode.

Waymo is listed as one of Google X's "graduated" projects, having left the secret lab in 2006 to become a real life, working project where the cars drive 25,000+ autonomous miles each day. In fact, since 2015, you've been able to catch a glimpse of one of these cars in Mountain View, California or Austin, TX if you happen to be in the area when they're testing the technology.

Space Elevators

Google doesn't list this idea as an official Google X project, but it's rumored to be on their list. This is an idea that's been around for a while, and it's a common staple in science fiction stories.

Basically, you take a space station that orbits the earth at the same speed as the earth's rotation, so it's always in a fixed spot. Next, you connect that space station to the earth using a gigantic and really strong cable. You can then use that cable to pull objects and people to space without nearly as much energy expenditure as you'd need to launch rockets. You could use this for observation or as a launching pad for space missions.

It's a great idea for scientists, tourists, and astronauts. Plus, the company that invents a working model could make a fortune in government contracts alone. However, that doesn't mean there's not a lot of money between the idea and final project.

Tweeting Refrigerators

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, you could see nearly every appliance company come up with a variation of this idea. Fridges text you to tell you when you're low on milk, washers tell you that your laundry is done, and ovens let you look up recipes from the internet.

These haven't been huge consumer hits...yet — but they will be, and it's more likely than not that Google will be playing catch-up with this idea, just like they were with Android tablets.

In fact, the entire idea of connected appliances was already announced at the Google developer conference, Google I/O. The framework is called Android@Home, and it allows smart communication between devices.

Other Google X Projects

You can stay up to date on other projects from the X — Projects page on the official Google X website. Projects in development are listed alongside graduated and discontinued X projects.