Google is famous for coming up with “science fiction-sounding solutions,” as its Captain of Moonshots, Astro Teller, put it. It spends $8 billion a year employing 18,600 people for its research and development wing.
The most famous teams in this huge department are Google X Labs (headed up by Teller) and ATAP, the Advanced Technology and Projects. These teams are responsbile for researching some of Google’s most outlandish ideas, including space elevators, hoverboards, and contact lenses for diabetics to monitor their glucose levels.
Read onto discover ten of Google’s most exciting current projects that are poised to change the world.
Internet balloons for everyone
Two thirds of the world doesn’t have internet access. Project Loon is designed to connect remote place using a fleet of helium balloon that circle Earth broadcasting LTE bandwidth. Not just a pie in the sky concept, working balloons have been tested in New Zealand and Brazil, lasting over a 100 days in the air, providing 10 Mbps connectivity with 500m accuracy. However, this project is still considered a pilot with no formal date announced for worldwide roll out.
Minority Report gesture controls
A recent announcement, Google has developed a radar emitter the size of a microSD card that can detect your hand movements. Codenamed Project Soli, the microchip is designed to be used in wearables and will recognise and respond to hand gestures, such as cranking an imaginary volume dial up or down, or pressing a button. Without the need for physical controls, smartwatches and smart home devices can be sleeker and more stylish.
An interconnected world of things
Google have launched a new Android-based OS called Project Brillo that will connect everyday objects to the internet. It’s similar to Apple’s own HomeKit system, but Sundar Pichai, Google’s Senior VP for Products, doesn’t draw the line at smart home, he envisions a smart world: “Imagine a farmer managing an entire farm from a smartphone; the security cameras, the sensors, the irrigation equipment, all of them can be connected so that they work better together,” he said at Google I/O 2015. A developer preview will be available this autumn.
3D mapping to help the blind ‘see’
Available to buy now, Project Tango’s Development Kit includes a smartphone and tablet equipped with cameras and sensors to understand space and motion. These gadgets can then build 3D maps that have a variety of world-changing uses. First and foremost, they could be used in wearables that help the visually impaired ‘see’ in front of them and warn them about obstacles in their paths. The 3D maps can also be used to steer robots and develop augmented reality apps.
Transforming the US wireless industry
Not content to be the world’s most popular phone software provider, Google now wants to be most affordable mobile network provider in the US too. Basic phone service will cost $20 a month, but customers will get money back dependent on how much data they use. Leasing cellular tower usage from established networks Sprint and T-Mobile, Project Fi also promises subscribers will always connect to the fastest network available. Currently the service is only available to Nexus 6 owners, but rollout will begin this summer.
Soon you will be able to dial a call on your phone with just a stroke of your sleeve. Project Jacquard has woven touchscreen controls into fabric using conductive threads, so that it can interact with your phone and other devices. Google have worked with Levi Strass and other partners to create so-called ‘Jacquard yarn’ that can be created on an industrial scale and stitched together by a tailor with only a basic understanding of how the tech works.
Road safe self-driving cars
Google’s autonomous cars have driven 1.7 million miles in the last six years. In that time they have only been involved in 11 accidents, but ‘not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident,’ said Chris Urmson, director of the project. Some occurred while humans were driving (humans drove the cars an extra 700,000 miles), while the rest were caused by other drivers rear-ending the Google-mobiles. Sadly, there is no sign of the self-driving cars going on sale any time soon.
The death of passwords
A major feature of Android Lollipop was smart locking, which unlocked your phone dependent on your location, using facial recognition and other factors. Project Abacus takes this concept a step further, learning to recognise the unique way a user holds their phone or taps on a keyboard to verify their identity. Based on trials using 40TB of data at 33 different US universities, Google says this technology is 10 times more secure than using a fingerprint scanner. Testing is ongoing.
Data-scrambling SD cards
While every new Nexus launch confirms the Mountain View’s preference for cloud computing, the ATAP team hasn’t forgotten about expandable storage. Just as Project Abacus is trying to revolutionise how we verify our identity, another project – codenamed Vault – aims to protect our privacy via the microSD slot. They’ve developed a new microSD smart card that scrambles any sensitive information stored on the entire device. With a built-in microprocessor and NFC chip, the card can also communicate with other devices.
Rather than buying a brand new phone every year, imagine upgrading the one you already have with a faster processor and bigger memory, or customising your phone with a longer-lasting battery and better camera when going on holiday. This might sound like science fiction, but Google have already shown off working models of this so-called ‘modular phone’ that they codename Project Ara. Google are also set to begin their first real-world trial later this year, selling Project Ara phones exclusively in Puerto Rico.
Which moonshot project are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments!