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An inside look at the top-secret lab where Google makes its craziest products

Published Apr 15th, 2014 12:20PM EDT
Google X Labs Projects

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Google Glass. Self-driving cars. Weather balloons that deliver Internet connectivity. These are just some of the wild and crazy projects that have come out of Google X over the past five years. For those who don’t know, Google X is Google’s top-secret lab where teams of engineers are tasked with thinking way, way, way outside the box for solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. Not coincidentally, many of these projects also have the potential to boost Google’s bottom line but there’s certainly no guarantee they’ll do so. In fact, as a new profile of Google X in FastCompany makes clear, there’s a very good chance they’ll crash and burn.

What is it that makes Google X different from just about any other corporate tech lab out there? For one thing, FastCompany says that it’s shielded from a lot of the competitive pressures that face other R&D operations because it uses Google’s insanely profitable search advertising business as its sugar daddy. This means that Google X engineers are allowed to think big and even impractically if it means coming up with the next “moonshot” project that the company hopes will change the world.

What’s interesting about FastCompany’s profile is how it makes clear that Google’s X team spends a lot of time thinking up wild ideas that get unceremoniously shot down before they even get to the prototype stage. Although Google X has free rein to experiment and tinker with wild ideas, it doesn’t have an unlimited budget to spend on trying to make all of its projects a reality. This means that in order to get approval and become an official Google X project, these ideas need to be pretty well fleshed out and be able to stand up to scrutiny from fellow X lab rats.

Among other things, FastCompany reveals that Google X mulled building both a space elevator and a hoverboard but chose not to do so because the logistics of both projects would have required far more research and development than was feasible. In the case of hoverboards, Google actually succeeded in building one but it was only the size of a quarter and the company couldn’t figure out how to solve physics issues related to a larger version. In the case of the space elevator, it was simply a case where no one in the world is capable mass-producing the kind of cables that are actually strong enough to hold up while being stretched from the earth into outer space.

FastCompany’s entire profile is fascinating and well worth your time. You can read the whole thing by clicking on the source link below.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.