Google spends much of its time researching new ideas - “moonshots” that on paper sound almost impossible.
Audacious moonshot products like Google Glass went very quickly from research and development in the secretive Google X skunkworks department to a real life product. So what is the Big G working on next? What kind of products could we see in the next few years?
1. Robots that could revolutionise manufacturing.
Google is serious about building robots. Last year it bought seven robotics startups and placed Andy Rubin - the man who led the creation of the Android operating system - in charge of its new robotics division.
Among the things it reportedly wants to build is a robot to automate electronics assembly lines, much of which is still run by manual workers. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Google would partner with Foxconn, the Chinese company that makes iPhones and iPads in vast warehouses for Apple.
3. Artificial intelligence.
Along with robotics, artificial intelligence is a key Google obsession and a big investment area. In February it bought British A.I. startup DeepMind for £242 million, the latest of several such acquisitions.
Google’s visionary director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, claims computers will be to pass the “Turing Test” - display intelligence indistinguishable from humans - IN THE NEXT 15 YEARS. So we’ve got that to look forward to.
4. Self-driving cars.
Google has been working on this for years, with tests on public roads since 2010 clocking up half a million miles without crashing.
A lengthy New Yorker profile of the project last year concluded that the plan was not to create a concept car but a polished commercial product, although there is no public timetable for its release, nor any clue to who might actually build them.
5. Smart contact lenses that help fight diabetes.
Yes, really. Google announced in January it was developing contact lenses that would help monitor diabetes sufferers’ glucose levels, using a wireless chip to send up to one reading per second to a mobile device.
Google says: “We’re also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, so we’re exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds.”
Google is in talks with the US Federal and Drug Administration, which would have to license this, and is looking for manufacturing partners.
6. Huge barges that could be turned into floating retail spaces.
Everyone was a bit flummoxed when a big Google-branded barge appeared in the San Francisco Bay Area last year. But documents released to sfgate.com revealed that the structure is intended to be a “temporary technology exhibit space”. The finished version will be 50 feet tall, 250 feet tall and by visited by up to 1,000 people a day.
The barge is made by By and Large LLC, a firm linked to Google, and speculation remains that the barge will eventually be a showroom for Google’s consumer technology, such as Google Glass.
7. Wearable gadgets powered by Android.
Google Glass is already available as part of an open beta test (it will set you back $1,500 and it’s just in the US currently), but that’s just the start for Google and wearable tech.
Earlier this month Google announced that developers can make Android apps for wearable tech like watches and wristbands - meaning you could search via your wristwatch by saying “OK Google” and then asking the question.
Gadgets using this tech are on the way from Asus, HTC, LG and others later this year,
8. Fighting disease and old age.
In September 2013 Google launched a new company, Calico, focusing on health and well-being, “in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases”. It’s headed up by Arthur D. Levinson, chairman and CEO of Genetech also Apple’s chairman.
Google co-founder Larry Page said of the project: “Don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses”.
9. Green energy. And lots of it.
Google isn’t joking when it says it’s investing in renewable energy sources: it’s ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into it.
A $75 million investment in a wind farm near Amarillo, Texas, was Google’s 15th such investment, including $200 million spent on another Texas wind farm, which claims to generate enough energy to power 60,000 homes.
And lastly, sadly, Google says it isn’t working on a space elevator, despite reports that it secretly was.
Eric “Astro” Teller, head of the Google X division, told SXSW last year it just wasn’t on the cards.
A report from the International Academy of Astronautics says it won’t happen until 2035 at the earliest.