Alphabet’s X Division, formerly Google X, has always been the place to find Google’s most out-there ideas taking form and being worked on. Some, such as Project Loon and self-driving cars, even manage to come full circle and begin showing tangible benefits to the population at large. A great number of moonshot projects, however, don’t make it anywhere near that far. X leader Astro Teller has had the hard choice of cancelling a project or seeing it hemorrhage resources uncontrollably more than a few times. Many of those times, he’s had no choice but to simply pull the plug. To put a number to it, he’s had to do just that over 100 times since the section’s inception. Many of these projects, mind you, simply hit a wall and could be revived at a moment’s notice, given a proper solution.
An automated vertical farming project that could use 10 times less water and 100 times less land than traditional farming was killed off because the team couldn’t convince staple crops and foods to grow in this manner. Another project was a blimp of sorts that would solve worldwide shipping issues by being more cost efficient and eco-friendly than a plane, without needing a runway or body of water. Although the moonshot had a lot of thought put into it and seemed feasible, this one was scrapped in due to a projected R&D and materials bill of $200 million for just the initial stages and the first prototype.
“If a project has an Achilles heel, we want to know up front, not way down the road.”, Teller said of X’s mentality. The moonshot factory isn’t about perseverance against all odds, according to Teller; the department likes to tackle the hardest parts of a project first, head-on, to discover any potential hangups before too much time, effort and resources become invested into a project destined to fail. The “blueprint”, according to Teller, is quite simple; the department finds a problem in the world with no obvious solution, comes up with a crazy and audacious solution, then figures out how to make the solution real. Things like self-driving cars and wind energy gathering kites have come of this fast-fail mentality thus far; only time will tell what moonshots will come next.