Google X and ATAP: Where Google works on its most ambitious projects

While Google[x] is a semi-secret research center overseen by founder Sergey Brin himself, the Advanced Technologies and Products (ATAP) is another secretive segment that is heard of more often. ATAP was quite prominent in this year's I/O showcasing the Project Tango and Ara initiatives.

Published Date
27 - Jun - 2014
| Last Updated
27 - Jun - 2014
 
Google X and ATAP: Where Google works on its most ambitious proje...

The annual two-day Google I/O conference has come to an end, bringing some pretty big news for the Android ecosystem and the entire tech industry. Names like Project Tango, Ara, Android L, Project Loon, Glass etc. are drawing tons of traffic onto tech websites all over the world, with people reading about sophisticated and advanced wearable devices to convergence between various devices. But where does Google build these things? Well, of course, their Mountain View, California headquarters, but there’s more to Google than you perhaps know.

When it comes to Google projects, two names pop-up often — Google[X] and ATAP. While Google[x] is a semi-secret research center overseen by founder Sergey Brin himself, the Advanced Technologies and Products (ATAP) is another secretive segment that is heard of more often. ATAP was quite prominent in this year’s I/O showcasing the Project Tango and Ara initiatives. ATAP lead Regina Dugan called her team “a small band of pirates trying to do epic shit”, at the conference. Looking at Ara and Tango, is she’s not very wrong.

Google X

On the other hand, Google[x] boasts of names like Glass, Project Loon and a smart contact lens to measure glucose levels for diabetics. But that is just what we have heard of, Google[x] is a research facility, located a few miles away from the company HQ, which takes up some of the most ambitious projects Google has ever taken. Project Loon is an initiative to send balloons around the world, which would provide wireless internet connections to the most remote areas. See what we mean? The best known of all X projects is the smart wearable Google Glass, which is well known now. Another of the nearly completed project from X includes Google’s Driverless cars.

Project Loon

Project Loon aims to bring WiFi connections to the remotest areas in the world

The true ambition of Google X though is known through some of its failed projects. The research facility has successfully created a functioning Jetpack, which was scrapped because of lack of commercial feasibility. In addition, it has also created a tiny hoverboard and get this...a space elevator. Yes, you read that right, the team tried to build an elevator, which would go from a base on Earth to an international space station located in, well, space.

The facility’s leader, Astro Teller, is an expert in a number of things. Teller once told Forbes that he and his team “drop 100 things a year, easily’, alluding to projects that have been tried and discarded. Perhaps the best example of Google’s ambition from X is in the fact that the facility has also tried its hand at teleportation, deciding that it defies he laws of Physics. Now you know why the projects in Google[x] are called moonshots.

ATAP

While Google[x] is ‘not talked about’ much, ATAP seems to be the better known of the two Google facilities. This team has often been cited, but is still as secretive as you can imagine. Understandable as it is, perhaps the best known of the ATAP projects (Project Ara and Tango) were talked about at the I/O conference recently. The two projects aim to create a modular smartphone and 3D tablet respectively.

The Project Ara smartphones are to be launched in Jnuary 2015

Again, Google showcased a working, albeit glitchy, version of a Project Ara smartphone at the I/O yesterday. The device allows users to buy a basic device and then purchase additional modules for only the functionality that they want. “Why choose a phone for its camera, when you can choose a camera for a phone?” asked Paul Eremenko, who is leading Project Ara. The project is also near completion and could be brought to the market sooner than expected.

Project Tango devices can render 3D models in real time

On the other hand. Project Tango is not that far behind either. Google announced at the I/O that it is teaming up with LG to bring the first Tango tablet next year. That is quite soon!

These two teams are behind most Google acquisitions and projects. On the face of it, it seems like ATAP is a more public version of X. Google acquired the Phoneblocks projects, which is what we now know as Project Ara. This was highly publicised and the project went to ATAP. On the other hand, Project Loon wasn’t publicised until Google chose to talk more about it. It seems both these teams undertake the seemingly ‘impossible’ projects and try to make it possible. Ever heard how X’s Teller, an expert in AI, described it? He says artificial intelligence “the science of how to get machines to do the things they do in movies”.

Prasid BanerjeePrasid Banerjee

Trying to explain technology to my parents. Failing miserably.