Google's Barge: Interactive Space for Showcasing New Technologies

 
 
By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-11-07
 
 
 

Google is still not saying much about a mysterious, four-story barge that it is developing in San Francisco Bay, but the company did release a very brief statement on Nov. 6 that unveiled a glimmer of information.

"Google Barge ... A floating data center? A wild party boat? A barge housing the last remaining dinosaur? Sadly, none of the above," according to a statement sent to eWEEK by a Google spokesperson in response to an email inquiry. "Although it's still early days and things may change, we're exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology."

Since late October, when the presence of two Google barges at opposite ends of the nation was first reported all over the Internet, the company has been very quiet about their intent. That, of course, inspired a flurry of attention and guesswork by pundits, news reporters and local officials about the barges. The barge Google is referring to in its statement is in San Francisco Bay, while a second barge in Maine's Portland Harbor apparently is not being discussed so far by Google.

Heading the list of possible uses for the large floating platforms so far have been ideas such as floating, attention-gaining Google Glass stores or the locations for remote data centers that could be floated wherever they are needed.

The floating Glass stores might be the best fit for some kind of "interactive space where people can learn about new technology," as described by Google.

In San Francisco, KPIX TV 5 has been reporting that the four-story-tall collection of shipping containers is being created as a "floating marketing center, a kind of giant Apple store … for Google Glass," according to an Oct. 25 story. That report is in contrast to other theories about Google's plans, including that the barges are homes for data centers. KPIX reported that "Google hopes to tow the completed structure from [the former Navy base at] Treasure Island across the Bay to San Francisco's Fort Mason, where it would be anchored and open to the public."

In the meantime, though, work has stopped on that plan because it turned out that Google didn't have a needed permit to build and float such a facility, according to the TV station. "Google has spent millions on this," a source close to the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission told KPIX. "But they can't park this barge on the waterfront without a permit, and they don't have one."

So far, Google has been vague about the use of the vessel in its discussions with the Commission, KPIX reported.

Google declined a request from eWEEK for further comment about the barges.

The intrigue about the barges has inspired a parody page on Twitter, @GoogleBarge, which has been posting humorous speculative messages about the intent of the hush-hush barges. One message, posted Nov. 1, reads: "Keep calm and believe what your television says. I am nothing more than a party boat. Shall we play...?"

In Portland, Maine, where the other Google barge is on the water in Portland Harbor, the Portland Press Herald reported on Oct. 26 that the two projects, on either side of the United States, are owned by the same company, By and Large LLC, based in Wilmington, Del., and appear to be linked. Experts contacted by the paper said they also buy into the data center theory. Google previously was granted a patent in 2009 for such structures, the paper reported.

Google Glass, the company's vision for an eyewear-mounted computer, has been a topic of conversation among techies since news of it first arrived in 2012. The first early Google Glass units began shipping in April 2013 to developers who signed up at the June 2012 Google I/O conference to buy a set for $1,500 for testing and development. It was the hit of the conference, and Glass units for consumers are slated for release by the end of this year, according to an earlier Google report.

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