SHOOTING FOR THE MOON, GOOGLE HOPES TO OWN THE FUTURE

Last year Google purchased Boston Dynamics, maker of the Atlas robot, is a high-mobility humanoid robot designed to negotiate rough terrain.
Boston Dynamics Last year Google purchased Boston Dynamics, maker of the Atlas robot, is a high-mobility humanoid robot designed to negotiate rough terrain.

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Look at the technology landscape today and what do you see? A few companies — Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, Twitter and Google — competing for the same sorts of revenue: advertising, search, location and some mobile hardware.

Now look into the future of the technology landscape and what do you see? I’ll answer that for you: Google, Google and Google.

Over the last year alone Google has acquired more than a dozen tech hardware outfits working on projects that might seem crazy today, but could be part of our not-too-distant future.

Let’s look at just a small collection of Google’s recent acquisitions. There have been several humanoid robot-makers, including Boston Dynamics, which makes two- and four-legged machines that walk and run with an uncanny sense of balance. Then there was Holomni, a small design firm that makes high-tech robotic wheels, presumably for more robots, or even Google’s fleet of driverless cars. And the acquisition of Makani Power, which makes airborne wind turbines, for, well, who knows how Google will use those?

Yet many of its competitors seem to be stuck in the present. Look at Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter’s acquisitions, all of which have purchased a lot of software, design, advertising and content companies. No robots. No self-driving cars. No wind turbines.

It’s unclear where Apple fits into all of this — the company, is, after all, better at keeping secrets than the National Security Agency. Apple also clearly has the money to compete with Google.

But if Apple is working in secret on its own robot army and futuristic universe, Google is building for the future in public.

On Monday, Google announced that it is purchasing Nest Labs, which makes Internet-connected home devices like a thermostat and smoke alarm, for $3.2 billion in cash.

What will Google use those little nests for? Likely, it will be connected to what Tony Fadell, the chief executive of Nest, told The New York Times last year, is creating a world of objects with awareness.

“Every time I turn on the TV, that’s information that someone is home. When the refrigerator door opens, that’s another sensor, more information,” Mr. Fadell said. His thermostat can track and collect that information. But the future will look different, when we have “sensor networks that can evolve, all interacting with these learning patterns.”

Of course, all of these wacky ideas and Google acquisitions could flop. Predicting a future that looks like an alternative universe only technophiles want to live in, with robots roaming the earth and sensors in our living rooms, does seem a stretch.

Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, recognizes that many of these ideas floating around the company are “moon shots.” But he also believes that many of them will be successful and position the company for a future his competitors don’t yet appear to be planning for.

In other words, he’s betting that the future will belong to Google, Google and Google.

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