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Google[x] heroic engineering - developing science fiction-like solutions

Google[x] at Launch: Silicon Valley 2014
Google[x] at Launch: Silicon Valley 2014
Michal Lenchner

The concepts of a self-driving car is still a mystery to our society, where attitudes vary from enthusiasm to doubt to complete rejection. Today, the consensus in the auto industry is focused on 2020 as the realistic time frame for autonomous cars to become commercially viable.

The prototyped driverless cars have successfully navigated 300,000+ miles thus far. Startups, technology companies and auto makers have moved into this segment in the transportation space, making proven progress towards self-driving, while enhancing safety, improving vehicle operations, connecting via networks or satellites, providing tools, applications and alerts to enhance the driving experience. Through advanced sensors, artificial intelligence and smart technologies, the driverless car has incorporated collision avoidance and GPS navigation capabilities, enables alleviation of traffic congestion, parking management and more.

Such a revolution, without addressing important questions, can affect social and cultural norms. For example, with the growing population of Baby Boomers, the driverless vehicle will allow elderly to stay at home into advanced age and run their normal independent life-styles, enabling them to continue to do activities, shop, and generally care for themselves. This proposition would lower not only the number of potential accidents, but also ease the dependency on care by loved ones and reduce an anticipated strain on society. Since money always talks in our world - such a shift in elder life will cost less in caring for older populations, whom would be able to extend independent living.

Megan Smith, entrepreneur, Vice President at GoogleX, spoke yesterday in Mountain View, California about innovation at SVForum's Launch: Silicon Valley - The World Cup Tech Challenge. At Launch: Silicon Valley World Cup, a premier startup launch platform, emerging companies from all over the world pitched to investors, presented to other entrepreneurs and technologists, competing in five different groups. 30 Startups from 16 Countries have qualified to participate this year.

We are networked as a planet, regardless of cultures, languages, political realities, or daily lives. Megan Smith said that even at remote and unlikely countries, like Afghanistan, computer technologists are widely connected, share code, where open source is widely used. She mentioned that nowadays Linux OS is being integrated into Afghani software platforms.

Education is one of the spaces that utilizes networked technology and the sharing of resources around the world, improving education prospects for millions of students at any age, creating vast and new opportunities for learning. Other activities include special interests and training in different hands-on STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) projects. She gave First Robotics Competition (FRC) as an example. FRC is an international high school robotics competition that gives students real-world engineering experience. Every year, the organization defines a robotic project and student teams, supported by volunteer mentors, compete in a tournament. The process teaches teens on how to build and apply robotic technologies, as well as develop the associated software to operate, control and manage the robots. Founded in 1992 in the U.S., First Robotics Competition has expanded to other countries around the world and today has 13 participating nations, with 2,720 teams participated in the 2014 season. For more information click here.

Google[x] brings together inventors, entrepreneurs and professionals. Started in 2010, the lab is run by Google and is dedicated to making major technological advancements. The lab is overseen by Sergey Brin, one of Google's co-founders, where teams aim to improve technologies by a factor of 10, and to develop breakthrough solutions.

"Great teams are diverse," Smith said, and to create best products, innovative talent can come from anywhere and everywhere. Entrepreneurial talent is also found in Arabia, India, China, Africa, and more - and not just in the Americas and Europe. Bridging communities to find skilled abilities is important to Google[x]. To increase diversity of thinking, generate ideas, and solve problems, the Google[x] team seeks talent collaboration by attracting pioneers from all over the world, in any country, to work together on projects. In particular, there is a focus identifying women innovators in all societies.

Smith said that Google[x] projects are often referred to as "moonshots" within the company.

A few examples of concepts that turned into actual products:

  • The Google Self-Driving car. Utilizing Artificial Intelligence and advanced technologies, the project sets milestones in developing the an autonomous vehicle, that can travel outside the lab environment on city and freeway routes, in real-life road conditions. In fact, Google[x] ideas are prototyped in labs, but are heavily tested outside the controlled setting of a lab.
  • The Google Glass product delivers an augmented reality head-mounted display, enabling hands-free display of information, just like interfacing a smartphone.
  • Another project is Loon, an idea to use Internet networked balloons that will fly through the stratosphere and will bring internet access to everyone, anywhere, anytime. Smith said that The Loon project is being piloted today.
  • The Google Contact Lens would allow diabetic patients to check their glucose levels, without using invasive method or blood testing.
  • Other ideas present various applications of robotic developments for businesses.

Early on, GoogleX developers created the widely used and familiar Google Earth.

Although some may assume that Google[x] teams focus on software, most of the ideas are hardware-based, utilize physics concepts, and evaluate materials. Hero engineers imagine solutions and develop them, attempting to solve problems, and hope these would be doable, viable, and achieve scale.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

1. The Google[x] lab, by media accounts, has worked on a list of 100 projects pertaining to future and breakthrough, even science-fiction like.

Some of the project ideas were rejected and include a space elevator (currently unfeasible), a hoverboard (too costly relative to the societal benefits), a user-safe jetpack (wastes energy), teleportation (cannot overcome physics laws), and more.

Read more here (http://google.about.com/od/experimentalgoogletools/a/Google-X-The-Secret-Google-Lab.htm. )))

2. SVForum - www.svforum.org

For the last eight years, SVForum's Launch: Silicon Valley has provided startups from Silicon Valley and around the world the opportunity to present, get feedback from some of the most renowned investors (including VCs, angels, and corporate venture firms), potential partners and attendees. This year, Launch: Silicon Valley has expanded its global reach with a special edition: The World Cup Tech Challenge. Modeled after the soccer tournament, countries from around the world applied to qualify for six spots in each of five different Tech Groups: Digital Media-Mobile, Enterprise Software, EdTech, Next Generation Technology, and HealthTech.

For the winners list and more information about SVForum, events, and resources, check http://svforum.org