Google Is Building Secret Hardware Testing Labs All Over Its Campus

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Photo: Illustration: Ellis Hamburger

In case you needed any more evidence that Google is getting into the hardware business in a big way, the company is building at least two new labs to test hardware at its Mountain View headquarters, plus a 120,000 square foot “Experience centre” that will be used to show off its inventions to partners.Mike Swift at the San Jose Mercury dug through public construction records and found the following:

  • A lab to test electronic devices under the  Google/@home brand. Swift writes that one lab has “screens out radio frequency signals for a division labelled ‘Google/@home’ to test new wireless consumer technology.” Google is also building “thermal and anechoic chambers” that could be used to test antenna patterns. This matches could tie in with a report last week that Google is building a system that will let users stream music throughout their home. Google has also recently filed for several special permits with the FCC to test a new “entertainment device” and a new “personal communication device.”
  • A Project X lab that involves high-precision optics. Swift writes that this lab “occupies a space with blacked-out windows at a central location of the Googleplex, 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.” Last June, we reported that Project X was the name for a secret project led by Google cofounder Sergey Brin, and ast week 9to5Google reported that the lab is working on goggles for augmented reality applications.
  • A humongous “Experience centre” to show off its inventions. This is a 120,000 square foot building for Google “to share visionary ideas, and explore new ways of working” with up to 900 important partners and potential customers at a time, according to Google’s filings. It sounds similar to the Microsoft Executive Briefing centre in Redmond, where Microsoft welcomes bigshot customers and partners and shows off futuristic demonstrations of home and work technology in special labs.

Two points come to mind.

It’s true that Google needs to diversify — the company is almost 14 years old, and 96% of its revenue still comes from advertising (and most of that from search advertising). But as I argued last week, there are other businesses that would seem to cater more to Google’s strengths — like enterprise software and services, or new types of advertising products for other media. Hardware is a huge stretch for a company that has never sold anything directly to consumers.

Second, if you still think Google bought Motorola mainly for the patents, you’re dreaming.

That deal will probably clear regulators this week. Get ready for some actual hardware announcements to follow.

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