ATAP goes AWOL at Google I/O

For the last few years, Google’s skunkworks ATAP unit always held its own keynote at I/O, Google’s flagship developer conference. Often, this was where Google would show off its most experimental and interesting projects — and sometimes, this ATAP keynote was actually more fun than the larger, flashier I/O keynotes. This year, however, ATAP is nowhere to be found on the I/O schedule.

According to a report from Business Insider earlier this week, the ATAP team’s mission changed after its former lead Regina Dugan decamped to Facebook, where she held court at that company’s F8 conference only a few weeks ago. That probably explains its absence at I/O, too.

Unlike X, Google’s far more secretive “moonshot” division, ATAP always used I/O to show off its latest prototypes, whether those were miniaturized radar sensors for gesture detection, jackets with embedded sensors (which Levi’s has now turned into a product), Project Ara (the modularized smart phone that was eventually cancelled) or a new system for authenticating users without passwords. Some of those failed — sometimes spectacularly — but because the team saw itself as a “band of pirates,” that kind of failure was perfectly acceptable (even expected) — and because ATAP only worked on short-term projects, that wasn’t really an issue anyway.

Today’s ATAP, under its new leader Rick Osterloh, however, doesn’t seem to be quite as freewheeling as its earlier incarnation. It’s also more secretive, less experimental and more focused on working on products that can be monetized faster.

That’s obviously better for Google’s bottom line — and today’s Google is clearly more focused on that than it was only a few years ago. But while we may not see an ATAP keynote at I/O anytime soon, chances are we will now see a version of this at Facebook’s F8 instead. That is Google’s loss.

Shortly after we published this story, Google responded. “It’s business as usual for ATAP,” a spokesperson told us. “About a year ago, they became part of the hardware team under Rick Osterloh, where their aim is to bring products and technology into Google’s hardware products, which we may bring to market or integrate into our portfolio, or use elsewhere within Google.”

We asked Google for more information about ATAP’s absence but have not received a response yet.