Imagine trying to convince someone that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) was a sound investment in 1985. Fifteen years before the brand became a big name, the company’s central product — its Internet search technology — would sound insane to the average person. A computer tool that lets you search for any type of information from any source, from a satellite map of Wisconsin, to all the world’s libraries, to someone’s private shrine to their cat?
It would’ve sounded like science fiction.
Today, that same search technology is the foundation of a nearly $200 billion market-cap company. Building the consumer technology of tomorrow is a risky business that’s hard to explain, which is why the process makes investors uncomfortable.
So it stands to reason that Google’s secret lab of far-out new projects profiled in a Monday report at The New York Times, called Google X, is just the kind of place that makes shareholders squirm. BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis said of the lab’s work, “These moon-shot projects are a very Google-y thing for them to do. People don’t love it but they tolerate it because their core search business is firing away.”
Some of the hundred ideas on which Google is working sound equally as crazy today as its search technology would have 25 years ago. Look closely, though, and you see that some of Google X’s known projects are already growing business concerns. Here are three Google X projects that could bolster Google’s bottom line over the coming years:
Commercial Space Travel
One of the projects the Google X facility is working on is an elevator to space. While the language naturally conjures images of Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the practical applications of rocketless space travel are far less fanciful. As MIT professor Rodney Brooks told the Times, “Google is collecting the world’s data, so now it could be collecting the solar system’s data.”
Beyond scientific inquiry, though, Google also could revolutionize the lurching commercial space travel industry. Boeing (NYSE:BA) made headlines last year after announcing plans to offer commercial flights on its CST-100 passenger spacecrafts — a very real competitor to Virgin Group’s on-again, off-again commercial space flight program. Google might very well be the company that finally makes upper-atmosphere day-tripping a reality.
Google made its biggest waves in 2010 with its Android mobile operating system, the popularity of which grew by leaps and bounds amongst smartphone manufacturers like Samsung (PINK:SSNLF), HTC, Sony (NYSE:SNE) and Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI). One of Google’s less-recognized ventures last year was its fleet of modified Toyota (NYSE:TM) Priuses.
What was so special about Google’s tinkered-with cars? They can drive themselves.
Google’s cars logged 140,000 unmanned miles in California. Now the Google X lab is readying the cars for commercial use instead of contained tests. According to a “person briefed on the effort,” Google will manufacture the cars itself. The revenue potential of these vehicles is limitless. Forget just the purchase price — just think of the contextual, location-based advertising passengers could view if they didn’t have to pay attention to the road!
The future is going to look a whole lot more like The Jetsons than previously suspected, and Google is going to be one of the company’s behind the technology. One of Google X’s farthest-reaching projects is technology for the “Web of things,” connecting average household goods to the Internet. A simple a thing as an Internet-connected light bulb, which Google described in May, could be turned off remotely using an Android phone.
Companies like Samsung, Broadcom (NASDAQ:BRCM) and Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN) already are investing heavily in and producing the technology that will allow these devices to connect to the Web. Google also has a team with proven commercial track records working on such projects. The Times report highlighted Google X member Johnny Chung Lee as someone working on “Web of things” products. Lee was one of the men behind Microsoft‘s (NASDAQ:MSFT) popular motion-control device, Kinect.