X, an American semi-secret research-and-development facility founded by Google in January 2010 as Google X, operates as a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. X has its headquarters about a mile and a half from Google's corporate headquarters, the Googleplex, in Mountain View, California.
On October 2, 2015, after the complete restructuring of Google into Alphabet, Google X became an independent Alphabet company and was renamed to X.
X's mission is to invent and launch "moonshot" technologies that aim to make the world a radically better place. A moonshot is defined by X as the intersection of a big problem, a radical solution, and breakthrough technology.
In mid-2015, Google said there were four projects being developed at X. As of late 2014, X projects that have been revealed include Wing, Glass, Loon, Brain, and the driverless car.
Waymo was a project by Google that involves developing technology for driverless cars. In December 2016, Google transitioned the project into a new company called Waymo, housed under Google's parent company Alphabet. The project was led by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View. Thrun's team at Stanford created the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and its US$2 million prize from the United States Department of Defense. The team developing the system consisted of 15 engineers working for Google, including Chris Urmson, Mike Montemerlo, and Anthony Levandowski, who had worked on the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges.
The U.S. state of Nevada passed a law in June 2011 concerning the operation of driverless cars in Nevada. Google had been lobbying for driverless car laws. The license was issued to a Toyota Prius modified with Google's experimental driver-less technology. As of March 2016[update], Google had test driven their fleet of vehicles, in autonomous mode, a total of 1,498,214 mi (2,411,142 km).
Project Loon is a project that aims to bring internet access to everyone by creating an internet network of balloons flying through the stratosphere. It uses wireless routers in balloons that are above weather and plans to give access to the internet to those who can't reach it or are in need of help.
Project Wing is a project that aims to rapidly deliver products across a city by using flying vehicles, similar to the Amazon Prime Air concept. At the time of the announcement on August 28, 2014, it had already been in development secretly at Google for about two years, with full-scale testing being carried out in Australia. The flying vehicles take off vertically, then rotate to a horizontal position for flying around. For delivery, it hovers and winches packages down to the ground. At the end of the tether is a small bundle of electronics which detects that the package has hit the ground, detaches from the delivery, and is pulled back up into the body of the vehicle. Dropping the cargo or landing were found to be unfeasible, as users compromised the safety.
Project Glass is a research and development program by Google to develop an augmented reality head-mounted display (HMD). The intended purpose of Project Glass products would be the hands-free displaying of information currently available to most smartphone users, and allowing for interaction with the Internet via natural language voice commands. One Google glass costs $1500.
In October 2013, the existence of four Google barges was revealed, with the vessels registered under the dummy corporation By And Large. Two of the barges have a superstructure whose construction has been kept under the utmost secrecy, while speculations indicate they could be used as marketing for, and stores for, Google Glass. However, these are merely speculations. Others have suggested that it might be used as a floating data center.
Projects that X has considered and rejected include a space elevator, which was deemed to be currently infeasible; a hoverboard, which was determined to be too costly relative to the societal benefits; a user-safe jetpack, which was thought to be too loud and energy-wasting; and teleportation, which was found to violate the laws of physics.
In February 2016, Astro Teller, the X "Captain of Moonshots," gave a TED talk in which he described the X approach to projects. Unusual characteristics of the approach included constantly trying to find reasons to kill off projects by tackling the hardest parts first, and both celebrating and rewarding staff when projects were killed off due to failure.
A number of companies have been acquired and merged into X, covering a diverse range of skills including wind turbines, robotics, artificial intelligence, humanoid robots, robotic arms, and computer vision. In 2013, X acquired Makani Power, a US company which develops tethered wings/kites with mounted wind turbines for low cost renewable energy generation. In 2014, it acquired product design and mechanical engineering firm Gecko Design, whose previous products included the Fitbit activity tracker and low-cost computers. As of 2015, X has acquired 14 companies: among them are Redwood Robotics, Meka Robotics, Boston Dynamics, and Jetpac. In June 2017, X sold Boston Dynamics to SoftBank Group.
A reporter from Bloomberg Businessweek visited the site in 2013 and described it as "ordinary two-story red-brick buildings about a half-mile from Google's main campus. There's a burbling fountain out front and rows of company-issued bikes, which employees use to shuttle to the main campus."
A group of us from Google[x] started Project Glass to build this kind of technology…
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