Google Moonshot Projects is the tech giant’s clear statement to the rest of the world it wants to remain at the cutting edge of tech research.
House in a complex known as X, and headed by Astro Teller, the projects are all about exploring the limits of human innovation.
This is the mission statement of X on its website:
We’re a moonshot factory. Our mission is to invent and launch “moonshot” technologies that we hope could someday make the world a radically better place. We have a long way to go before we can fulfill this mission, so today it’s really an ambition.”
So no matter how hair-brained an idea is, X would stand by it. That is, as long as the idea is supported by sound scientific theory.
Google Moonshot Projects was conceived in 2010 as Google X. The first ambitious project of the futuristic lab was the self-driving car.
X Moonshot Projects
After the restructuring of Google in 2015 that saw the emergence of Alphabet as the parent company of all Google’s core and non-core operations, Google X was renamed X.
That change signaled a new era geared towards making as much profit as possible for holders of Alphabet’s stocks.
There were fears this would inhibit innovations especially the Moonshot Projects done at X. These fears were quickly shot down by Larry Page, who had moved up as CEO of Google to become Alphabet’s new Chief.
These Moonshot Projects gulped a huge amount of money in research and development. There is no guarantee that any of them would make any money in the short or long run.
For instance, in the latest figures, Moonshot Projects accounted for about $1biliion in operational losses of Alphabet.
To understand the scale of these projects, here is a list of some of them
List of Google Moonshot Projects
- Google Fiber – already in operation in 9 cities in the United States of America, it aims to provide high-speed Internet access in addition to cable TV services to subscribers.
- Nest – plans to make smart devices and gadgets for the smart homes of the future. Nest is supposed to make IoT gadgets to be used in our homes.
- Delivery drones – known as Project Wing , it is a futuristic project to use drones for courier services
- Smart contact lenses – contact lenses that would act as a medical diagnostic tool to collect important health data of the wearer.
- Smart Spoon – allows people with Parkinson’s disease, or people with similar symptoms, to eat without spilling the food
- Energy kite – wind turbine designed like a kite that apparently produces more power than a traditional wind turbine and is far less expensive to make.
- Project Loon – one of the signature projects of X. The basic concept aims to deliver high-speed Internet to the remotest areas of the world using balloons cycling above the earth’s atmosphere
- Diagnostic Pills – the magnetic pills should be able to detect diseases like cancer in the human body.
- Clinical Trials Wristband – this digital wearable should be able to track vitals signs like heart rhythm, body temperature, and pulse during important clinical trials.
- Solar-powered drones – these huge drones, known collectively as Project Titan, are designed to fly non-stop for years and should be able to deliver high-speed Internet to remote regions
- Robots – these are sophisticated military-grade robots being built by Boston Dynamics.
- LinkNYC – already in operation in some parts of New York, it aims to provide free WiFi for New Yorkers
- Baseline Study – this project is collecting genetic and molecular information from people to be used for research to detect heart diseases and cancers earlier.
- Long-lasting batteries – to power our gadgets and devices for longer periods.
- Google Genomics – for approximately $25 your genetic information would be stored in the clouds. It is hoped this would revolutionize medical research
- Calico’s live longer project – an ambitious project aimed at reversing death or making people love longer
- DeepMind – artificial intelligence research section of Google Moonshot Projects
- Virtual reality – one of the few Google Moonshot Projects that is likely to become a commercial success. There are several virtual reality headsets planned for release soon.
- Project Soli – an ambitious project that ultimately would mean we can control our smart gadgets without actually touching them. The motion of the fingers is all that is required.
- These are some of the known Google Moonshot Projects. It is likely there are some being shielded from the public view at the secret X lab.
These projects collectively are a sinkhole for millions of dollars. This is why Larry Page and his board at Alphabet are beginning to take a second serious look at the wisdom of continuing with some of Google Moonshot Projects.
Google Moonshot Projects under fire
In Google’s X, Ruth Porat is a clear and immediate danger. Since she was appointed (after the formation of Alphabet) as the Chief Financial Officer, she has tried to enforce a regime of prudent spending in all divisions of Alphabet.
Naturally, most of the moonshot projects are left floundering for money to survive.
Her attempts at cutting down waste have seen the cancellation of projects such as the popular Project Ara. The Modular phone that was primed to revolutionize the way we relate with smartphones.
Even the drone division, Titan, that planned to steal the thunder from Facebook’s Project Aquila ( a similar solar-powered drone aimed at providing high-speed Internet to remote regions) was shut down early this year.
Other moonshot projects have also come under Ruth Prat’s hammer. These include:
- Scaling down investments in the self-driving car project
- Boston Dynamics, the Robotics company, is up for sale
- Expansion of Google fiber is on hold
- The Terra Bella satellite imaging unit is to be sold
- Development of drones for courier services are on hold
With all these, the impression is strong that the age of Alphabet signals the end of Google moonshot projects.
Many of the innovators at X have started looking for new homes. Already, several brilliant scientists have been let go while others were ordered to join other projects.
At Alphabet Inc, innovation and concepts would now have to show a discernible straight line from the drawing board to profits in a reasonable time frame. The notion of wild ideas with no time frame for success is now completely dead.
So, the reality of the modern business world has caught up with X. Once again, money/profit margin is the decisive factor for what gets done in this world.