Looking to the Future
Google's side projects tend to have a forward focus. The company pours resources into researching everything from space elevators to robots--and, of course, pinpointing what all of us will be doing or using in the future. Let's take a look at ten items that Google is putting resources into developing.
For years we've been hearing about a refrigerator that orders milk for you when you're running low, but Google wants to expand the idea to the entire home. Its Android @Home platform already has connected light bulbs, coffee pots, and more in the works. On top of that, Google has its eye on moving beyond the home, to a much broader "Internet of Things." At the company's most recent developer conference, it rolled out its open accessory development kit for Android, inviting makers everywhere to get busy connecting anything from small gadgets to big machines.
Google is reportedly running a secret division dubbed "Google X," which includes a lab in an undisclosed location where robots rule the roost, according to the New York Times. There's no evidence of an army of T-1000s being built somewhere underground in Silicon Valley, however. Apparently Google is trying to build bots to perform all sorts of mundane tasks around the home and office (such as making coffee or copies), which will give humans greater flexibility to work remotely and focus on higher-level duties.
At Google, cars aren't just a means of transportation--they're also an engineering problem to be solved with piles of data and cash. It just makes sense that the company that provides directions and street-level data for all locations should make the cars to take you to them as well. The New York Times reports that part of Google's plan could be to show passengers location-based ads for the businesses the self-driving cars whiz past.
Elevators to Space
Believe it or not, Google is just one of a number of organizations and individuals interested in setting up the infrastructure to leave Earth's atmosphere without the use of rocket propulsion. Space elevators are reportedly another project on the Google X agenda (see previous slide). The idea is to run a ribbon from Earth to a counterweight in orbit that allows easy access to space for all kinds of scientific experimentation and other ventures. Many people believe that we could have such lifts operational in less than a decade.
Developing renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal power is one of the main goals of Google's nonprofit arm, Google.org. The project concentrates on solar-powered turbine engines to create electricity, as well as on low-cost heliostats, which are mirrors that track the sun and concentrate solar energy. Google also supports efforts to map the world's potential geothermal energy sources. The goal is to create renewable sources that are cheaper than burning coal, which currently generates most of the power in the United States.
Google is interested in investing in new ways to fight disease. Its investment portfolio includes a stake in Adimab, which uses a novel approach involving yeast cells to speed up the discovery of new antibodies. Another Google company, iPierian, uses a technique called "cellular reprogramming" to create new drugs that attack diseases by modifying them.
Climate Change Insurance
A number of Google's investments in companies through its Google Ventures wing also have an eye toward the future. One of the companies in the portfolio is The Climate Corporation, which sells weather insurance for farmers to protect their businesses from increasingly unpredictable conditions and extreme weather.
A Google future seems to involve making everything smarter, from drugs to cars and even home thermostats. This idea is one of the driving forces behind NEST, the sci-fi climate-control system that learns the best way to keep your home comfortable--while also saving on energy bills. NEST has already rolled out to some customers, and a waiting list has formed for the next batch.
Fighting cancer fits perfectly with the do-good theme present in many of Google's investments. Google Ventures put some money into Foundation Medicine, which combines genomic and molecular data to create a new approach to cancer care. Perhaps curing cancer is just another engineering problem.
Predicting the Future
Google is so committed to the future, it should come as no surprise that the company is even interested in predicting it. Another Google investment is in Recorded Future, a company that seeks to parse the universe of information available online for clues about what's to come.