The Future: Now brought to you by Google

Google has never been shy about it’s intention to reshape the world. This month the company unveiled two projects that illustrate a long-term ambition to go beyond strongholds like search and mobile, and to be a major player in the emerging transportation and renewable energy industries. Leveraging a considerable war chest and influence, Google’s is asking people to imagine a future that to some may sound, well… a bit like a Jetsons episode.

Google has been testing a fleet of revolutionary cars that drive themselves with the use of software, GPS, and a system of cameras and sensors. Spearheaded by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, who co-invented Street View, the program’s seven vehicles (mostly modded Priuses which always have a human on hand) recently traveled 1,000 miles on major highways and city streets without any human intervention and 140,000 miles with only occasional human control.

Google claims the vehicles are able to react quicker and more reliably to surroundings than humans, and that the increase in safety would reduce traffic and maximize highway efficiency. Safer “smart cars” would also pave the way for lighter weight vehicles which would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a second, but potentially inter-connected endeavor, Google announced a multi billion-dollar partnership with Good Energies and Marubeni to construct a 350-mile cable along the east coast from New Jersey to Virginia to power offshore wind farms. With a 6 Gigawatt clean-energy capacity, the projects could help power 1.9 million homes with renewable energy, and according to some experts allow Google to reduce overhead for maintaining it’s energy-intensive data centers.

Google has already experimented with or proposed a number of renewable energy projects, including a small fleet of electric cars that are powered completely by solar energy. It’s vision of future vehicular transportation would thus be a world of self-driving cars that are powered by electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources.

Google has also positioned itself to be a leader in the often discussed but not yet widely built “smart grid,” a proposed digital update of our entire electricity and energy infrastructure that would greatly increase energy efficiency system-wide as well as in individual homes and buildings.

In June, Google tested it’s PowerMeter technology in what has been called the country’s first wireless smart grid. The web application allows one to view home energy consumption broken down by appliance, and would according to Google lead people to reduce electricity use by 5 to 15%. The company has also previously announced a collaboration with GE to develop smart grid software.

We often hear people complain that Google has consolidated too much power and too much access to information, but chances are we haven’t seen nothin’ yet. The day may not be too far off when you’re checking your Google PowerMeter app on your Droid phone while sitting in your self-driving Google car that’s powered by electricity you bought from Google Wind.