Google co-founder Sergey Brin wants the company to explore new areas of technology and develop projects that could have a huge impact on the world. Which is why he’s thrilled to be leading the company’s experimental technologies division, Google X.
Google still makes the lion’s share of its profits from web search, but that doesn’t mean the company is resting on its laurels. To the contrary, it’s been expanding aggressively to work on a number of new high-risk, high-reward technologies, including everything from high-speed fiber Internet to self-driving cars to wearables to smart contact lenses.
They’re what Google calls “moonshots,” and Brin has been the driving force behind a number of these new innovations. Why?
“It’s important to work on something you really enjoy and feel confident about,” Brin said. “And I think it’s important for companies in general to try to do new things.”
Earlier in the talk, Brin compared Google today to what it was about a decade ago, and said that the roots of what it does with its Google X division is similar to its early translation of a university research project into a commercial enterprise.
“With search, we took a university research project and made it sustainable,” Brin said. Many of the other things that we do are also about taking research and bringing it to life in ways that we hope will change the world.”
Brin said he’s been leading Google X for three years, and there are now about eight projects underway. Not all of those are available to the public, but there are others that are — like Google Glass, which Brin brought on-stage, and the Loon balloon Internet project.
And then there’s that new self-driving car, which Brin also showed off at the conference. Prototypes of those cars, which lack steering wheels and pedals, could hit the road later this year.
While Google has been doing a lot of in-house development, it has been relatively acquisitive over the last year, buying up everything from smart home automation company Nest (which will expand its purview to become Google’s core hardware product group) to drone maker Titan Aerospace to robot dog manufacturer Boston Dynamics.
The company keeps looking for new ways to change the way people think about the tools that consumers use on the web. “I think Google is best when it changes the way people think about a thing,” Brin said. He gave the example of Gmail, which made webmail into an enterprise-grade product.
But the company hasn’t always been successful in its ambitions to enter into new markets. Google+ wasn’t exactly successful, with the company pulling back on the project earlier this year. But Brin admitted that he was “kind of a weirdo” and the wrong person to ask about social products.