Google builds an ‘X-team’ of tech executives—but for what?

Image: AP/Timur Emek
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Something funny is happening in Mountain View. First Andy Rubin, the man who invented Android, and now Jeff Huber, the former head of Google’s mapping and advertising divisions, are moving to a mysterious division within Google so secretive that until the New York Times revealed its existence in 2011, even most of the company’s employees didn’t know about it.

It’s called the X team, and so far it’s been responsible for Google Glass, Google’s self-driving car, and a new hyper-accurate geolocation system that could make it so the mapping application on your phone knows where you are to within 25 centimeters, indoors or out.

Sometime next month, the team will unveil another one of Google’s “moonshot” projects, something as bold and radical as its self-driving car, according to Google X team head and awesome name-having guy Astro Teller. All Teller would reveal about the project is that it revolved around “control systems,” so it’s a safe bet that it’s yet another form of automation, possibly even something new in robotics.

One reason Google could be shifting all this talent and resources into its X team—which now numbers in the hundreds of employees, according to one source—is that the Silicon Valley has of late become relatively barren of innovative companies Google might be interested in acquiring.

Will former Google vice presidents Rubin and Huber be heading up this new project? Whatever the answer, their move to the X team shows that Google is serious about using the largesse of its advertising business to attempt radical transformations of the future of face-based computing.