Google X's Crazy Failures: Space Elevators, Hoverboards, Teleportation

Illustration for article titled Google Xs Crazy Failures: Space Elevators, Hoverboards, Teleportation

We've all wondered excitedly about exactly what Google might be cooking up in its X lab. But now, Fast Company has taken a peek inside its workshops to found out what happens to the ideas that don't make it off the drawing board.

In a lovely feature about what Google X does—and perhaps more importantly, how it thinks—some of the scientists behind its many and varied projects spill the beans on ideas they've had which never quite succeeded. Generally, they seem to have a cool idea, run with it for a while, and work that it's not—yet!—feasible. So, think hover boards:

"Mag-lev" systems have a stabilizing structure that keeps trains in place as they hover and move forward in only one direction. That couldn't quite translate into an open floor plan of magnets that keep a hoverboard steadily aloft and free to move in any direction. One problem, as Piponi explains, is that magnets tend to keep shifting polarities, so your hoverboard would constantly flip over as you floated around moving from a state of repulsion to attraction with the magnets. Any skateboarder could tell you what that means: Your hoverboard would suck.

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And think space elevators:

The team knew the cable would have to be exceptionally strong— "at least a hundred times stronger than the strongest steel that we have," by ­Piponi's calculations. He found one material that could do this: carbon nanotubes. But no one has manufactured a perfectly formed carbon nanotube strand longer than a meter. And so elevators "were put in a deep freeze," as Heinrich says, and the team decided to keep tabs on any advances in the carbon nanotube field.

And think... teleportation:

The conversation eventually drifts to how the team had at one point debated the pros and cons of taking on teleportation. Yes, like in Star Trek. As with that show's Transporter, the molecules of a person or thing could theoretically be "beamed" across a physical distance with the help of some kind of scanning technology and a teleportation device. None of which really ­exists, of course. Piponi, after some study, concluded that teleportation violates several laws of physics.

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Clearly, these are all crazy ideas that would probably never work—but it's great that Google is thinking about them. What's nice, too, is that all the hair-brained schemes seem to produce some tangible results, too. So, for instance, the thinking about teleportation gave rise to a new encryption scheme used by Google.

It's hardly surprising that this level of thinking goes on, given some of the brains that Google employs—which is what makes the Fast Company feature such a worthwhile read. Go check it out. [Fast Company]

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DISCUSSION

There are really some closed-minded people here. In the years leading up to the Wright Brothers famous flight, they were mercilessly ridiculed for thinking man could fly. Churches burned them in effigy and mothers pulled their children off the streets when they came by...

I applaud Google for trying and not giving up. Many of these problems will be solvable someday with applications of new physics.

We are discovering metamaterials every day that behave radically different than normal chemistry and elements.

We are discovering new particles such as tetra quarks that have properties we will be discovering for decades.

We just found a nanoparticle that is violating the the second law.

I think as we rethink "particles" as waves and continue investigate ways of treating particles as waves, we will find ways based on oscillation and frequency that doesn't violate any physical law that will allow teleportation. Something involving the evolution of entanglement. It won't involve converting someone to energy and back to matter again, but we will find a different way to achieve the same goal.

But setting around, quoting old fashioned arm-chair dogma and waving the laws (as we understand them) of physics like a Bible will NEVER get us there. Stop being a Debbie Downer!