AH Tech Talk: Alphabet Looks To Be Rethinking Moonshots

Back in October, Google reorganized into Alphabet and became a wide range of separate companies. One of those companies, their X Labs, adopted the bulk of their outlandish "moonshot" projects, the pursuits Google undertook that were more out-there in nature, such as Project Loon and robotics. Some of the moonshot projects, like self-driving cars and Project Loon, took off and found viable uses, as well as commercial success in some cases. Other projects, however, fell by the wayside and languished into obscurity or were outright abandoned. One such project, Google's robotics division, was quite promising before its sudden crash. After buying out robotics top dog Boston Dynamics, Google eyed a military contract with the robots being built. They scored the contract in question, but after a few hiccups, the contract was cut near the end of last year. That was the death knell for Alphabet's adventures in robotics. They began looking for a buyer for Boston Dynamics and, essentially, other parts of their robotics division ground to a screeching halt.

The employees who were working on robotics projects were lost without the military contract that Boston Dynamics had scored them. Currently, those employees are scrambling to find a real-world issue that would be profitable and feasible to solve. Should they fail to figure anything out, they'll be reassigned to work on the company's other projects and Google's adventures with robots, for all intents and purposes, will be over. This is just another reflection of their new attitude after reforming into Alphabet and bringing on Ruth Porat as the CFO. The attitude shift points to a more serious and business-minded approach, where profitable and feasible projects are prioritized and underperforming projects are dumped. What happened to the robotics division, once grouped together under the internal name Replicant, could happen to any division of Alphabet or Google, should it be seen as a smart business decision.

Another part of that new attitude, however, is a bit more hopeful. A new sub-team of the X Labs, known as Foundry, was created and given the task of analyzing issues, markets and potential products to help current moonshots find a concrete goal to work toward and to determine whether future moonshot proposals were valuable and how to approach them. When a project is handed over to Foundry, it will be analyzed, possibly tweaked and perhaps even marketed a bit, or tested. From there, the project will normally get a full roadmap and business plan, and then "graduate" and gain a dedicated team and full development status within X. Projects that don't have a feasible and marketable goal, however, are scrapped before receiving any further formal development.

This new approach to moonshot projects is only a small part of the "new" Google's approach to business. Whereas the company founded on dreams used to thrive on the same, Alphabet seems to lean toward ditching the pie-in-the-sky approach to look more toward propositions and projects that will either make money during development, like their core Search business, or projects that can make a profit at maturation, like Project Loon. Their willingness to scrap projects that don't show justifiable value was shown off for the first time with the shuttering and sale of Boston Dynamics and the offshoot division, Replicant. As Alphabet progresses into their first year in business, it's becoming increasingly clear that, while the ambitious "spirit" of Google is still there, the previous approach of using the money from Search to invest in unprofitable projects is being done away with in place of an eye for developments that can turn a profit. 

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