X: Where Google’s ideas fly high (or fizzle)

Astro Teller at X
Astro Teller, the “Captain of Moonshots” at Alphabet’s X idea factory, shows off two of X’s innovations: Google’s self-driving car, a venture that was spun off as Waymo; and the communications platform at far left that’s used on Project Loon’s balloons. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Why does the Captain of Moonshots wear roller skates to work?

That may sound like the start of a joke, but Astro Teller provides a mostly serious answer at the complex that houses the think tank for Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

The inline skates help Teller, the captain who’s at the helm of what’s known as “X: The Moonshot Factory,” get between appointments in the 500,000-square-foot complex more quickly.

“This way I’m two minutes late as opposed to four minutes late,” he told GeekWire during a recent tour.

The clock is always ticking for Teller, and for X as well.

It’s not as if the idea of an idea factory was totally new when the Google X lab was founded in 2010. Microsoft Research has served a similar role for more than two decades. Bell Labs and IBM’s research centers go back decades further.

But today’s rapid pace of innovation and competition is increasing the pressure to turn blue-sky ideas into marketable products and services. No company, not even Alphabet, can afford to bet on every hunch. So X’s aim is to systematize the process of picking winning technologies.

“We are trying to be the card counters of innovation, not the gamblers of innovation,” Teller said.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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