Google has intriguing plans at the Googleplex

Feb 16, 2012 By Mike Swift

Google is in the midst of more than $120 million in construction projects at its Mountain View headquarters, including work on a series of new or previously secret hardware testing labs that hint at the Internet giant's expanding interest in crafting consumer devices like its rivals Apple and Microsoft.

Among the projects, revealed by a review of public records by this newspaper, are a lab to test a new consumer product under the brand name "@home" that will wirelessly or data to other household devices, apparently similar to a prototype home audio service Google demonstrated publicly last year. And, most intriguingly, Google is modifying a lab for a project enigmatically named "Project X," which appears to involve precision optical technology and could be part of the secret technology projects Google co-founder is heading.

The highest-profile project will be a "Google Experience Center" under construction at the core of the Googleplex. The 120,000-square-foot center will be a kind of private museum for Google's most important clients and partners, where the company plans "to share visionary ideas, and explore new ways of working" with up to 900 VIPs and other important guests, according to documents Google filed with the city of Mountain View.

"The Experience Center would not typically be open to the public - consisting of invited groups, and guests whose interests will be as vast as Google's range of products, and often confidential," Andrew Burnett, an architect working on the project, explained in a letter late last year to Mountain View officials. "Therefore, the Experience Center must also operate somewhat like a museum, exhibit, or mercantile space allowing flexibility in the exhibits so that as Google's products and needs change, the space can adapt."

As Google becomes increasingly focused on selling its products to other companies, schools and government agencies, and developing consumer devices in addition to the Internet-based software that built its brand, facilities like the Experience Center and the new hardware labs illustrate a kind of rite of passage, said veteran Silicon Valley technology analyst Rob Enderle.

Google is joining a club that includes companies like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Boeing and IBM that have dedicated customer demonstration facilities to showcase their products and technology to potential buyers, analysts and other important partners.

"It really becomes the showcase for the company," Enderle said. "They are designed to impress. They are part of the sales process. The purpose is, you walk in and you have an 'oh, wow' moment."

Across the Googleplex, construction crews have been busy in recent months working on about 800,000 square feet of renovations, city records show. With Google completing the biggest hiring year in the company's history in 2011, many of those projects are employee amenities such as cafeterias, employee showers or charging stations for electric cars.

Google declined to say much about the Experience Center, or to discuss its new hardware testing labs or the mysterious Project X.

"Just as we continuously work to improve our products, it's important to iterate on our workspace to keep us productive," the company said in a written statement provided by a spokesman. "That's why we are adding additional meeting and work space to our campus in Mountain View."

But with regulators signing off on Google's $12.5 billion purchase of smartphone and tablet maker Motorola Mobility, the company also appears to be retrofitting its campus for a future where hardware is a more important part of its product offerings.

At 1600 Shoreline Blvd., for example, the company is building a lab that screens out radio frequency signals for a division labeled "Google/@home" to test new wireless consumer technology. Elsewhere on campus it is building thermal and anechoic chambers that can be used for things like testing antennas' radiation patterns.

The Google/@home "RF screen room will be used to test the Wifi performance and development of a consumer product," a Google real estate official, Lewis Darrow, said in a letter to the city last year. The Wall Street Journal said this week that Google could launch a wireless home audio product later this year.

Project X, which occupies a space with blacked-out windows at a central location of the , includes the use of rare gases like argon, a plasma cleaner that can scrub materials of contaminants, and arcane optical-coating technology, city records show. While the purpose of Project X is unclear, Brin since last year has been focusing on a list of secret projects at the company, including its efforts to develop a driverless car.

Apple and Microsoft have extensive hardware testing facilities on their campuses, as they design and develop products like the iPhone or the Xbox gaming system, Enderle said. Like the Experience Center, those testing facilities can also be part of the sales process, allowing to demonstrate the reliability of new products.

"If you keep it close to the executive briefing center, you can bring in (manufacturing partners) or large customers, show them the testing as its going on, make them more comfortable with that product," he said.

Explore further: WhatsApp says it now has half billion users

2 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Google to open R&D center in Israel

Feb 28, 2006

Internet search giant Google will open a research-and-development center in the northern Israeli city of Haifa -- its first R&D center in the Middle East, the company announced in a statement Tuesday.

Google sees Android enhancing home appliances

Jan 11, 2012

Google's Android software is best known for powering smartphones, but executive chairman Eric Schmidt sees a future where it could also help devices communicate at home.

Google co-founder 'pretty happy' in stealth role

Oct 20, 2011

(AP) -- Google co-founder Sergey Brin took a break from his work on the Internet search leader's secret projects to make a surprise appearance at a technology conference Wednesday.

Google to make home entertainment system: report

Feb 09, 2012

Google will mirror Apple's winning hardware-software formula with an Android-powered entertainment system that wirelessly streams content through homes, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Recommended for you

LinkedIn to anchor new San Francisco high-rise

7 hours ago

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee says the professional networking site LinkedIn will expand its presence in the city by anchoring a high-rise office building under construction.

Comcast 1Q earns beat Street on upbeat NBC result

Apr 22, 2014

Comcast's first-quarter net income rose by nearly a third as ad revenue surged at broadcast network NBC, helped by the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Jimmy Fallon's elevation as host of "The Tonight Show."

User comments : 0

More news stories

Jacket works like a mobile phone

A fire is raging in a large building and the fire leader is sending a message to all firefighters at the scene. But they don't need a mobile phone – they simply check their jacket sleeves and read the message ...

Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

"I think one can argue that if we were to follow a strong nuclear energy pathway—as well as doing everything else that we can—then we can solve the climate problem without doing geoengineering." So says Tom Wigley, one ...

Male-biased tweeting

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

High-calorie and low-nutrient foods in kids' TV

Fruits and vegetables are often displayed in the popular Swedish children's TV show Bolibompa, but there are also plenty of high-sugar foods. A new study from the University of Gothenburg explores how food is portrayed in ...