Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Google's Five Weirdest Projects from Its First 15 Years

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Google's Five Weirdest Projects from Its First 15 Years

Article excerpt

The Google doodle Friday depicts a bunch of letters cluttered around a birthday cake. Click on the play button, and the whole thing turns into a video game: playing as the blindfolded letter "G," you can take swings at a pinata, while scads of Google-colored candy fall on the ground. The game, of course, is a kind of birthday party for Google, which turns the ripe old age of 15 on Friday.

Fifteen years - not bad for a company founded in 1998 by a couple of Stanford graduate students, and based in a Menlo Park garage. (Google now has approximately 30,000 employees in dozens of countries.) Perhaps the clearest evidence of Google's success is its online-search market share: 67 percent in the United States, and despite the attempts of scrappy Bing and persistent Yahoo, still solidly in control of the search game.

But on this 15th birthday, we figured it might also be fun to recall some of the odder non-search projects Google has undertaken in recent years. Or maybe odd is the wrong word. How about interesting?

Project Loon

The "loon" here is key - it connotes precisely how far-fetched this idea seems. But it's true: Google is currently in the process of launching a network of high-altitude balloons, fitted with solar panels and antennas, which would float about 12 miles above the surface of the earth.

"If all works according to the company's grand vision, hundreds, even thousands, of high-pressure balloons circling the earth could provide Internet to a significant chunk of the world's 5 billion unconnected souls," Steven Levy of Wired recently wrote, "enriching their lives with vital news, precious educational materials, lifesaving health information, and images of grumpy cats."

Driverless cars

For some, it's the stuff of science fiction dreams. For others, it's an unholy terror.

Since last year, Google has been testing autonomously-driven cars on the streets of Nevada and California - some 300,000 miles had been logged as of August of 2012. "We're encouraged by this progress, but there's still a long road ahead," Google reps wrote last year. "To provide the best experience we can, we'll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals, and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter. …

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