space-elevator

Over the years Google has produced some unbelievable products and the search giant shows no signs of slowing down. This has led to some heavy rumors claiming that the company’s super secret innovation lab, Google X has been working on a space elevator. As far-fetched as it may sound, guess what? It’s true! Well, sort of. Not only did Google kick around the idea of building a space elevator, it’s X lab also entertained the thought of building a hoverboard and the reality of teleportation. Recently, a group of members from Google’s hush-hush R&D group opened up to the folks at Fast Company about some the team’s wildest ideas.

Building a space elevator

The Google X team did take a shot at this idea, however they hit a wall when searching for materials. After describing a cable attached to a satellite fixed in space, Rich DeVaul, Google X’s head of rapid evaluation detailed some of the project’s issues. “It would be a massive capital investment,” DeVaul, told Fast Company.  “[But after that] it could take you from ground to orbit with a net of basically zero energy. It drives down the space-access costs, operationally, to being incredibly low.”

The problem here was that the team knew that the elevator’s cable would have to be at least a hundred times stronger than the strongest steel available today. They came up with the idea of carbon nanotubes as a possible solution, but no one has been able to form a strand of this substance longer than a meter. So, the space elevator was put on ice.

Hoverboards

This idea came from Rich DeVaul, who says he always wanted one. “If there’s a completely crazy, lame idea, then it’s probably coming from me,” he told Fast Company. This project actually started to take shape, but was grounded due to scaling issues. 

“So the first question here relates to the physics,” Dan Piponi of Google X told Fast Company. “Can you actually have an object hovering about? And so people try really hard with magnets–to find some arrangement that keeps something hovering.”

Magnetic-levitation trains use in China and Japan use a stabilizing structure that keeps trains in place while they hover. These vehicles move in one direction, while a hoverboard would need to move freely in any direction. Since magnets often shift polarities, Piponi said such a setup would make your hoverboard constantly flip over. However, the team actually found a counter to this roadblock.

“There are loopholes in this theorem that you have to find,” Piponi told Fast Company. “There are materials that are kind of weird, that don’t behave like magnets normally do.” He discovered a very unique type of graphite that actually worked on a small bed of magnets. He even built a prototype for the rapid evaluation team, but it was about the size of a quarter. Piponi calculated that at a certain point the weight of the board would force it off its cushion of air. So, the project was eventually shelved. 

Teleportation

Yes, the team actually discussed the pros and cons of teleportation. This idea didn’t go as far as the hoverboard and space elevator, but after multiple discussions, the team agreed that teleportation violates several laws of physics.

While these were three lofty concepts, the fact that a company like Google is actually pulling from its massive resources to entertain these ideas is pretty inspiring. For a detailed account of Fast Company’s sit down with the Google X team, check out the source link below.

(via Fast Company)

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