Never satisfied to rest on its search engine -- or even its Android mobile operating system -- laurels, Google is once again setting out to drive transformation. This time, Google is targeting entire cities, with a new company called Sidewalk Labs.
Google CEO Larry Page introduced the concept on his Google Plus page. He said that most people who were reading his post probably lived in cities. He said that those same people could probably think of plenty of ways to improve their cities, including by having more affordable housing, better public transportation, less pollution, more parks and green spaces, safer biking paths, shorter commutes, and so on.
With that, he introduced Sidewalk Labs, a new Google company that aims to tackle interrelated urban challenges. Transportation availability, for example, impacts where people chose to live. That, in turn, impacts housing prices. And the ripple effect continues into quality of life. Page said it was helpful when city planners operate with these principles in mind so they could get a big picture of this ripple effect and develop the necessary technologies and partnerships.
Can Google Really Do This?
"Sidewalk will focus on improving city life for everyone by developing and incubating urban technologies to address issues like cost of living, efficient transportation and energy usage," Page said, noting that Dan Doctoroff, former CEO of Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor of Economic Development and Rebuilding for the City of New York, will lead the new company.
Of course, this is a far cry from search engines and Android operating systems. Then again, so are other Google initiatives, such as self-driving cars and drones. Page said he understood that some folks might be scratching their heads about this particular Google project.
"While this is a relatively modest investment and very different from Google's core business, it’s an area where I hope we can really improve people’s lives, similar to Google[x] and Calico," Page said. "Making long-term, 10X bets like this is hard for most companies to do, but Sergey (Brin, Google's co-founder) and I have always believed that it’s important. And as more and more people around the world live, work and settle in cities, the opportunities for improving our urban environments are endless."
Yes, This Can Work
We caught up with Greg Sterling, Vice President of Strategy and Insights at the Local Search Association, to get his take on Google's spin-out company. He told us Sidewalk Labs is classic Google.
"It's an extremely ambitious goal that could well have a public interest payoff -- think self-driving cars -- but which all potentially yields benefits to the company as well. It makes me think about applications for Android or Brillo, Google's new Internet of Things operating system, which could come into play," Sterling said. "I do think Google is sincere in believing it can help address urban problems and it's a great thing that the company is pursuing these kinds of objectives and challenges. However there will also be ROI for Google -- though what that is precisely may not be immediately obvious at the outset."