Solve for X with Google X

Solve For X is a place to hear about and discuss radical technology ideas for solving global problems – radical in the sense that they could help billions of people, and radical in the sense that they sound like science fiction.

But Solve for X aims to highlight ideas that are especially notable in that in addition to being radical, there is a breakthrough technology on the horizon that might just make them practical.

This combination of things – a meaningful problem, a radical solution for solving that problem, and the breakthrough technology required to implement that solution – is the essence of a technology moonshot.

In this session, we will highlight two of Google[x]’s current moonshot projects: the self-driving car, and Project Loon.

The Self-Driving Car Project

The self-driving car project began three years ago with the aim of preventing vehicle crashes, freeing up drivers’ time, and making mobility more accessible. Our automated cars have driven from Google[x]‘s Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office, and on to Hollywood Boulevard.

They’ve driven in traffic jams, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, and navigated the Pacific Coast Highway. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged hundreds of thousands of miles. They drive using a laser range finder, radar sensors and video cameras to “see” other traffic, and also make use of detailed maps to navigate the road ahead.

Meet Steve, one of our favorite testers, who joined us for a special drive on a carefully programmed route to experience being behind the wheel in a whole new way.

Project Loon

Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.

Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. They are carried around the Earth by winds and they can be steered by rising or descending to an altitude with winds moving in the desired direction. People connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal bounces from balloon to balloon, then to the global Internet back on Earth.

The project was started right here in New Zealand, with a small group of pilot testers who established a connection to approximately 30 balloons launched over the Canterbury area.

Presenter bios:

Dave Ferguson is a researcher working on Google’s self-driving car program. His current research focuses on machine learning, prediction, and perception in the context of autonomous vehicles. His algorithms have been used by a number of real-world robotic systems including the Mars Exploration Rovers, subterranean mine mapping robots, driverless cars, and robot manipulators. He has a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and a BSc(Hons) in computer science from Otago University.
Born and bred in Wellington, Ross Young recently worked with the Google[x] team on Project Loon.  Ross also manages public policy and government affairs for Google in New Zealand.  He trained in law and psychology and has worked in New Zealand and overseas, including at the BBC, Minority Rights International, Vodafone, TelstraClear and the Commerce Commission.  He is a father of one and is currently reading a biography of William Gladstone.