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What 'skunkworks' projects are underway at Google? New website aims to bring together big thinkers and big problems, such as climate change and cancer.

Thomas Claburn

February 6, 2012

3 Min Read

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10 Essential Google+ Tips


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Google last week convened a private technology gathering for innovators--a sort of secret TED conference--and on Monday plans to share some of the discussions and related materials through a new website, WeSolveForX.com.

a Google+ post. "The conference is driven by short, technology rich presentations on topics ranging from low-energy, low-cost water desalinization to stretchable silicon biosensors," he wrote. "This stuff is real." [ Google plans to consolidate its privacy policies next month, despite regulators' pleas to delay. Read Google Rejects EU Request On Privacy Policy Consolidation. ] Other topics included using crowdsolved labor to tackle science problems (such as protein folding), e-waste mining (apparently, a ton of e-waste contains more gold than a ton of mined ore), transforming education, improving agriculture, synthetic biology, and carbon-negative biofuels. DeVaul says that videos and materials from the conference should be posted by the end of the day on Monday. Google has long pursued novel technology projects, such as its plug-in hybrid initiative, but it hasn't had a dedicated umbrella organization under which such projects can be managed. Enter Google's secret lab. Referred to as "Google X" in a November article in the New York Times, Google's skunkworks houses projects like Google's effort to develop self-driving cars, not to mention robots. DeVaul says on his website that he "works in a secret Google lab that may or may not be filled with roving robots, space elevators, and talking refrigerators." It wasn't clear whether Solve For X will serve as the public face of "Google X." Google, in keeping with the secret lab playbook, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Having a secret lab might help restore Google's cutting-edge image, which was dulled a bit after CEO Larry Page cleaned house and shut down Google Labs, a home for innovative, commercially-questionable Google projects. The company's rivals in research long ago leaked the existence of their own secret labs. Lockheed Martin pioneered the concept with its Skunk Works, Amazon has its Lab 126, HP has Area 17, Microsoft has labs all over, although they're more private than secret, and then there's Apple, an entire company built as a secret lab. Stay tuned to see whether Google reveals more about its research lab as WeSolveForX.com gets populated with content.
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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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