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X, the moonshot factory
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News and updates from the team at X
News and updates from the team at X

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Sometimes teams at X set out to build one thing, only to discover that the technologies they create have applications far beyond the problem they were trying to solve. This was certainly the case for Gcam, the computational photography project that grew out of Google Glass as a separate effort around advanced image processing. Today, Gcam powers the acclaimed Google Pixel camera, and many other image processing products across Alphabet. Based on image fusion technology, Gcam captures a rapid burst of pictures, then combines them into one brighter, sharper image. More on our blog https://goo.gl/w1gBFx
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Our Captain of Moonshots, Astro Teller shares his five operating secrets for taking moonshots at the 2017 Edison Awards today.
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Today in 1452, Leonardo Da Vinci was born. During his lifetime, he built prototypes for countless, sci-fi sounding innovations, many of which are real-world products today. At X, our Rapid Eval team are tasked with inventing the next moonshot and much like Da Vinci, they do this through a combination of 10x thinking and rapid prototyping. A roster of engineers, artists and builders test and prove out new ideas in X's innovation lab, known as the Design Kitchen. Joe, a Prototyper in X's Design Kitchen, says, "Many of DaVinci’s concepts failed because the technology was ahead of its time, but his imagination drove innovation, which is the best way to solve the problems X wants to solve."

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Last week, X sponsored the Lesbians Who Tech summit in San Francisco. Gabby Levine from our Rapid Evaluation team gave a talk on her relationship with experimental play, which is often cited as the magic spark that leads to scientific breakthroughs or insights. Gabby has built a career around playing with hardware to solve big problems in a unique way, and today at X, she continues to use play and collaboration to solve large-scale global challenges in unimaginable ways. Find out about some of the playful experiments and creative detours she’s taken on our blog goo.gl/GEGscE 
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Kicking of #NationalEngineersWeek with some #ProjectLoon nostalgia! Loon’s earliest flight equipment was housed in these small, styrofoam beer coolers. Inside, the flight electronics and batteries and altitude control system were insulated from the extreme conditions of the stratosphere.

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Since our first tests with +ProjectLoon in New Zealand, we’ve built dynamic models of the stratosphere using wind data going back 35 years, and refined this with data from our own 19 million kilometers of flight to create detailed models of the winds in the stratosphere. These models allow us to make predictions of the wind patterns near a balloon that it can ascend or descend into, depending on the direction and speed we want.
At the same time we’ve been developing machine learning powered algorithms that run simulations to evaluate the possible paths available to each balloon and identify the “best” one for that moment. These algorithms act like a balloon fleet controller telling our balloons which paths are “better” to take. Improvements to our altitude control system now also enable our balloons to choose from a 7x greater range of winds in the stratosphere than before.
After years of flying, testing and simulating, we’re a lot better at predicting where the winds blow and the best balloon routes to take. Instead of doing a big loop around the world to get balloons where we’d like them to go, we can now send small teams of balloons to where people need service to create a micro network. Read Astro Teller's Medium article on our blog to find out more https://goo.gl/bkCPLp

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We always thought Project Loon would operate by creating rings of balloons around the globe and worked hard to maximize the amount of time each balloon spent over land. But over the last few months we were able to make some major breakthroughs by applying machine learning techniques to our navigation algorithms, and as a result, we can now get teams of balloons to cluster together over a particular region of the earth. This has enormous implications for Loon’s economic and operational viability: we can put together a Loon network over a particular region in weeks not months and we can get greater value out of each individual balloon. Overall this means we can reduce the total number of balloons we’d need, which has huge implications for the costs of operating a Loon-powered network.

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When we launched +ProjectLoon, we had a hunch that a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the winds of the stratosphere might be a way to provide affordable Internet access to rural, remote, and underserved areas. Today, we’re sharing some exciting news about the project that is bringing us closer to our goal. Stay tuned! #LoonforAll #moonshot
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More than half of the world's population is still without Internet access.

At X, the Project Loon team is developing a network of balloons that travel on the edge of space and are designed to extend internet connectivity to people in rural and remote areas. The team just hit a big milestone and awarded this year’s Gold Balloon award to 'The Bolt', a balloon that stayed aloft for 190 days straight!
And the 2016 Golden Balloon goes to…..

Our annual Golden Balloon Awards recognize the Loon Balloons that have demonstrated epic feats of strength and stamina. They also shine a spotlight on some of the technical progress the team has made behind the scenes to bring us even closer to bringing connectivity to people around the world.

While in past years we’ve highlighted multiple high flyers, this year, one balloon stood out for its combination of endurance, agility and power. We called it The Bolt. The Bolt demonstrated an unmatched combination of navigational accuracy, balloon durability and sheer energetic endurance to set it apart from the flock.

A true all rounder, The Bolt set a new project record for balloon longevity, staying aloft for 190 days.

During its six-month-long adventure, The Bolt sailed more than 122,000 kilometers through the sky and hit top speeds of 162 kilometers per hour. To fuel this marathon effort, the balloon’s solar panels generated 1.72 gigajoules of energy over the course of the flight. If that amount of energy was deployed in seconds instead of months, it would be enough to spark a lightning bolt.

The Bolt’s high altitude tour started in Puerto Rico. From there, it floated over 19 different countries and three continents, sometimes reaching lofty heights of 20,353 meters - that’s the same view you’d have from the top of 65 Eiffel Towers stacked atop one another. Our new navigational algorithms, designed to maximize the time that balloons spend over areas where they can deliver connectivity to people on the ground, helped keep The Bolt on track. Bobbing up and down between the layers of the stratospheric winds, The Bolt made more than 30,000 maneuvers to stay on course during its global adventure.

In addition to the wild winds, The Bolt also endured extreme temperatures. Some nights it got as cold as -83C. That’s just a few degrees away from our record low of -90, and as icy as an Antarctic winter night. The Bolt is one of our “Nighthawk” designs, and its combination of strength and durability ensured that it was well equipped to withstand these extremes. (You can check out how we’ve evolved our balloon designs to make our fleet even stronger over the years here: goo.gl/MtnWEA).

After travelling the equivalent of three circumnavigations around the world, we decided it was time to bring our rugged adventurer back home. So we navigated The Bolt back to our landing site in the Nevada desert for a well earned retirement. The lessons we’ve learned from The Bolt’s explorations will help us make future balloons even stronger. 
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Welcoming Waymo

The self-driving car project started in 2009 to develop technology that could make our roads safer and improve mobility for everyone. In October 2015, the team completed the world’s first fully self-driving trip on public roads in a car without a steering wheel, pedals or test driver. The project has just graduated from X and is now Waymo, an independent Alphabet company. Congratulations to the team! https://goo.gl/O8kemW 
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