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What is going on inside Google’s secret research lab?
In a secret research facility situated near Google’s California HQ, the world’s best minds are allowed to pursue their wildest flights of fancy. This isn’t a lab for developing the next Android smartphone or tablet, but for going after ‘moonshots’ – ideas that can change the world and bring science fiction to life.
Google X started in 2010, reserved for special future-thinking projects that amaze and inspire. Speculation is rife as to what is being dreamed up behind closed doors, but the tech giant remains tight-lipped – teasing new information only when those dreams are realised. Thinking big means that not every idea works out – Google tried to make a jet pack, and failed – but with the full launch of Glass earlier this year, the lab is beginning to show results.
Glass, though, is just the tip of the iceberg for Google X. Just wait until you see what else they’ve been working on…
A pill that can detect cancer
Last week it emerged that Google is devloping a pill capable of detecting cancerous cells in the bloodstream. The idea is to create a digestible tablet containing magnetic nanoparticles that cling to cancer-related molecules, alerting you when they do via a wearable device. The pill could also be capable of detecting fatty plaques which can be a warning sign for impending heart attacks.
Cancer researcher Muneesh Tawari told Wired: “The concept is very exciting and has merit—to do more proactive and continuous monitoring in the blood. The question is how feasible is this and over what time frame? It’s still quite early days.”
An internet powered by balloons
One of the more high profile ideas to emerge from the Google X lab is Project Loon. No, that isn’t short for loony, but balloon – or possibly both. The goal is to provide internet access for remote areas, creating a wireless network harnessed by high altitude balloons placed into the stratosphere.
The project was officially unveiled by Google last summer with the above video and, if completed, could have a huge impact on developing regions in Africa and Southeast Asia. More information and all the latest news is available on the Project Loon website.
An elevator to space
Yup, you heard, an elevator to space. Space travel via rocket ship is all well and good, but it’s a bit like taking a few hundred thousand flights of stairs when there’s an elevator in perfect working condition.
Sadly, though, the space elevator will be out of service for the foreseeable future. Building the structure has proved even more difficult than it sounds, as Google discovered that even the strongest steel on earth would be a hundred times too weak to hold the thing together. That’s not to say we won’t ever get there, but not for at least 20 years according to a report by the International Academy of Astronautics. Still, it’s nice to know this is the kind of thing Google is thinking about between making tweaks to its algorithm.
A car without a driver
Back on land, you might have noticed that Google unveiled the world’s first driverless car earlier this year – another product of the Google X lab. Those without driving licenses will be delighted by the news, ready to welcome their new robot chauffeurs with open arms – but that’s just scratching the surface of the technology’s potential. Google believes driverless cars could eventually cut the number of road deaths by half.
A smart contact lens with a built-in microchip
Did you think Google Glass was the limit for smart eyewear? Think again, as Google X is now working on a contact lens that can help patients with diabetes.
The smart lens will be fitted with a small microchip and an ultra-thin electronic circuit, measuring diabetics’ blood sugar levels from tear fluid on the surface of the eyeball. Google is also exploring the potential of integrating tiny LED lights that could light up when glucose levels cross certain thresholds. Introducing electronics into the eye might sound like something out of Terminator – as well as raising the same concerns as Glass around privacy – but Google claims it could also produce a lens to help treat farsightedness.
A drone that will save lives (and deliver your groceries)
If you’ve been reading GoExplore in recent weeks, you may have seen our two reports on Drones 4 Good – A London event examining the positive implications of UAV technology. Google too believes drones can be used for good, and Project Wing is a UAV delivery system that hopes to do exactly that.
Like Amazon, Google is exploring the potential of super speedy delivery methods for our goods and groceries, but it also wants its drones to be used to supply medical supplies in emergencies and crisis. Google X’s brilliantly named director Astro Teller told the BBC: “Even just a few of these, being able to shuttle nearly continuously could service a very large number of people in an emergency situation.”