Through its innovative use of technology, search engine giant, Google has already transformed many industries. It has not only transformed search, but is also known for several other innovations which have now become a part of our daily lives – Android and YouTube are just a glimpse of some of the innovations. Other innovations like driverless cars have now begun to slowly catch on.
At its semi-secret facility called Google X, the company is working on some ambitious projects, which it calls ‘Moonshots’. The goal of the lab is to improve technologies by a factor of 10, and develop science-fiction sounding technologies.
This vision was best expressed by Google’s Executive Chairman, when he said in a recent interview to the press, “Most companies become incrementalists. And Google is committed to not do that. We understand the technological change is essentially revolutionary and not evolutionary.”
Interestingly, the lab began in 2010 with the development of self-driving cars. Dataquest takes a look at some crazy ideas undertaken by the giant, that may not look crazy once they become mainstream.
We would also like to add, that there are some ideas which we have not added but they maybe worth writing about after some months (after we have more information). These include: Project Fi (a wireless plan launched in the US that allows customers to pay for only the data they use. Any data that is left gets a credit. For $20 a month, you get unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international text and coverage in over 120 countries), Calico (a company spun off by Google that has a mission of fighting aging), and Project Vault (a project that aims at making a totally secure computer running out of computer’s SD card slot).
Read on to understand how Google plans to disrupt the world with its ambitious ideas
#1 Project Loon: Balloon Powered Internet
How do you provide Internet access to someone who is on top of the Himalayas? How do you get access to someone who is living in a remote area where there are no cellular networks? How do you quickly provide a network when there is a disaster? Google believes it has answer with Project Loon.
Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. In the stratosphere, there are many layers of wind, and each layer of wind varies in direction and speed. Loon balloons go where they are needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel. By partnering with telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum, Google has enabled people to connect to the balloon network directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices. The signal is then passed across the balloon network and back down to the global Internet on earth.
Project Loon began in June 2013 with an experimental pilot in New Zealand, where a small group of Project Loon pioneers tested Loon technology. The results of the pilot test, as well as subsequent tests in New Zealand, California’s Central Valley and in Northeast Brazil, are now being used to improve the technology in preparation for the next stages of the project. Since they were launched, the Loon balloons have already traveled 3 million kilometers.
In February, this year, Google told the Times of India, that it was working closely with various telecom providers to bring bring Project Loon to India. By 2016, the firm hopes to have a commercial format that will allow it to have coverage on every square inch of the planet.
#2 Project Jacquard: Wearable textiles and interactive furniture
This is another ambitious Google project that makes it possible to weave electronics into fabrics. Project Jacquard makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard industrial looms. Also, everyday objects such as clothes and furniture can be transformed into interactive surfaces. Google has partnered with denim maker, Levi’s as the first official partner for this project.
Using conductive yarns, touch and gesture-sensitive areas can be woven at precise locations, anywhere on the textile. Alternatively, sensor grids can be woven throughout the textile, creating large, interactive surfaces. Google has said that it has developed the technology to attach the yarns to connectors and tiny circuits, which are no larger than the button on a jacket. These miniaturized electronics capture touch interactions, and various gestures can be inferred using machine-learning algorithms. This data, in turn, can be wirelessly transmitted to mobile phones or other devices to control a wide range of functions, connecting the user to online services, apps, or phone features.
Google believes that connected clothes offer new possibilities for interacting with services, devices, and environments, and these interactions can be reconfigured at any time.
Google is aiming to create a disruption in this market by projecting Jacquard as a blank canvas for the fashion industry. Designers can use it as they would any fabric, adding new layers of functionality to their designs, without having to learn about electronics. Similarly, developers will be able to connect existing apps and services to Jacquard-enabled clothes and create new features specifically for the platform. Google is also developing custom connectors, electronic components, communication protocols, and an ecosystem of simple applications and cloud services.
#3 Project Ara: Modular smartphones
Another highly ambitious project of Google, Project Ara is an initiative to develop an open platform for creating modular smartphones. For example, you could put in different components of your choice such as a display, camera or even an extra battery. This will help users remove malfunctioning modules and replace them as new innovations emerge. This in turn, will provide a longer life for the smartphone and reduce electronic waste too.
Google will just provide the frame or the metal endoskeletal frame, in which different components of the user’s choice can be put. The user can populate the phone with “modules,” the building blocks that make up the vast majority of the phone’s functionality and features. The modules can be easily and safely inserted and removed at any time, even while the device is powered on. The modules also have user-replaceable covers or “shells,” which provide a creative canvas for users to make their phone look exactly as they wish. Ultimately, customers will be able to buy a complete Ara phone, configure one from scratch, or buy additional modules through the Ara Module Marketplace.
Just like Google Play for apps, in the future, you may be able to buy different hardware components made by third-party manufacturers. The goal is to have thousands of component manufacturers just as there are thousands of app developers — giving the user more choice in choosing his or her ultimate smartphone.
#4 Project Soli: Interacting with devices with your hands
Our hands are perhaps our best for interacting with devices. However, our hands still need to touch a screen to perform a desired action. What if you could use your hand to say (without touching an object) control volume on a speaker, or browse a map on a smartwatch screen by just moving your fingers. Project Soli, the latest project from Google, aims to do just that by using hand gestures to make user interfaces more easy to use.
In a Google Plus post, the team says, “Our hands are fast and precise instruments, but so far, we have not been able to capture their sensitivity and accuracy in user interfaces. However, there is a natural vocabulary of hand movements we have learned from using familiar tools like smartphones, and Project Soli aims to use these motions to control other devices.”
Unlike traditional gesture-based controllers which use cameras to detect motions, Soli relies on radars to detect objects in motion using high frequency radio waves. Radars are typically used in satellites, cars or planes.
As a traditional radar’s equipment is big, Google has shrunk the radar and made it so small that it can capture the sub-millimeter motions of fingers. Soli sensors can capture 10,000 frames per second – a capability which allows Google to capture motions of your fingers at resolutions and speeds that have not been possible before.
To get there, the team had to reinterpret a traditional radar, which bounces a signal from an object and provides a single return ping. From a hardware and computation perspective, Google says that this would have been challenging to recreate on a small scale. So to capture the complexity of hand movements at close range, Soli illuminates the whole hand with a broad radar beam, and estimates the hand configuration by analyzing changes in the returned signal.
While the first prototype is already built, the Soli team is working on finalizing the development board (prototype) and software API for release to developers later this year. As this fits onto a chip, it can be produced at scale and built into small devices and everyday objects. Tomorrow, you could interact with your television and change channels or you may even close your door by using just your gesture. The possibilities are limited to one’s imagination.
#5 Project Tango
Project Tango combines 3D motion tracking with depth sensing to give your mobile device the ability to know where it is and how it moves through space. Using just an Android smartphone, one can create a 3D model of the environment around him or her. The technology gives a mobile device the ability to navigate the physical world similar to how we do as humans.
Project Tango brings a new kind of spatial perception to the Android device platform by adding advanced computer vision, image processing, and special vision sensors. For example, you could visualize how a sofa that you are going to buy, would look in your living room.
Retailers could possibly allow shoppers to use Project Tango to search and navigate to specific locations and receive instant information about promotional offers that come out of the product’s shelves as they pass the products. If you are an interior decorator , you could also walk around a room or a architecture and capture the dimensions of the room without a measuring tape. For places of tourism interest, Project Tango could also accelerate development of augmented reality apps that provide information such as direction or information about the location itself.
#6 Smart Contact Lens to measure blood sugar levels
Diabetes affects one person in every 19 people on the planet. Many people also face a huge challenge in monitoring their sugar levels regularly. Many people dread getting their fingers pricked for testing their sugar levels checked, while others feel it is a cumbersome activity. As a result, many people avoid checking their blood sugar levels on a regular basis.
Google has figured a way out to handle this problem, through the use of miniaturized electronics. In a blog post, Google said, “Over the years, many scientists have investigated various body fluids—such as tears—in the hopes of finding an easier way for people to track their glucose levels. But as you can imagine, tears are hard to collect and study. At Google[x], we wondered if miniaturized electronics—think: chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair—might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy. We are now testing a smart contact lens that’s built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material.”
Google is testing testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second. It is also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer. It is exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds.
Google has already licensed its smart contact lens technology to pharmaceutical giant, Novartis. The smart lens technology involves non-invasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturized electronics which are embedded within contact lenses. Novartis’ interest in this technology is currently focused in helping diabetic patients manage their disease by providing a continuous, minimally invasive measurement of the body’s glucose levels via a “smart contact lens” which is designed to measure tear fluid in the eye and connects wirelessly with a mobile device.
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