Google will continue to improve upon its current product line into the foreseeable future, but there's so much more on the horizon for this Cupertino, Calif.-based company. The tech giant has its hands in a range of sectors including robotics, home automation, and even green energy. Here's a collection of things that will help Google shape the future.
Purchased around the same time as Boston Dynamics, Schaft is arguably the less terrifying arm of Google's collection of robots. The team, which started out of Tokyo University, works on bipedal robots capable of performing specific tasks.
Schaft's model recently won the DARPA Robotics Challenge, beating all competitors in four challenges: walking on uneven terrain, climbing ladders, clearing debris, and connecting hoses. DARPA awarded the group $1 million to continue working on their project, but the team already has the financial support from Google to advance its tech.
Makani Power created airborne wind turbines that create electricity without giant windmill-like structures. Instead, the team puts small wind turbines on the wings of autonomous planes. The planes are tethered to the ground and transmit electricity to the ground via an electrical cord inside the tether.
Google acquired Makani Power in May 2013, and folded the company into its Google X labs. Not much has come out of the team since the acquisition, but the potential for a new way to harvest wind energy is there.
Nest Labs is the latest in Google's eccentric collection of acquisitions. The company produces smart thermostats and smoke detectors that bring everyone a step closer to home automation. The sensors in Nest's devices provide valuable information including the temperature of a house, when somebody is home, and whether the house is on fire or not.
It's not clear what Google wants to do with Nest Labs, and so far we know the company will continue selling its devices and will continue to support Apple's iOS and Android. There is potential for some interesting features when paired with other Google services such as Google Now (imagine estimating commute time and adjusting your thermostat to reach a desired temperature based on your estimated arrival time), but for now it's a way for Google to have another sensor in your home.
Another Google X project, Google started secretly testing driverless cars way back in 2010. The fleet is comprised of modified Toyota Prius and Lexus RX450h cars (plus one Audi TT) that are outfitted with a variety of sensors. The sensors, Google says, help make the cars safer than human-operated vehicles. In fact, the only recorded incidents involving the cars were due to human, not machine, error.
Self-driving cars are the culmination of a lot of Google projects, including the popular Maps service. As Maps gets better, the self-driving car project can improve. It's not clear how long we'll have to wait to see driverless cars on the road, but with Google and several automakers looking into the technology, the future may come quickly.
The acquisition of Boston Dynamics in December 2013 was notable not because of any plans announced for the team, but because of how terrifying some of their robots look. Boston Dynamics creates robots that can run, walk, and climb through almost any terrain. Each one is based on a different animal including dogs, cheetahs, and even humans.
Google lets the Boston Dynamics team operate independently to continue work on its collection of robots. The robot pictured above is the Legged Squad Support Systems robot, or LS3, which is funded by DARPA and the U.S. Marine Corps. The team also created the Atlas robot, which was used by several teams in the recent CARPA Robotics Challenge.
Project Loon is yet another Google X project, and while most of the projects in this list have seemingly nothing to do with Google's main web products, Loon is arguably all about them. Project Loon hopes to bring easy Internet access to more people of the world using giant balloons that float at high altitudes.
The first Project Loon test launched in New Zealand last year, bringing 3G-speed web access to the town of Leeston. Each balloon flies twice as high as an airplane, and brings web access to an area of 485 square miles. Users need special equipment to connect to the Internet balloons, but it has the potential to bring web access (and therefore access to Google) to those living in areas where a landline connection isn't feasible or affordable.