Google's super-secret project

What's the deal with those floating barges?

a woman

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Recently, mysterious vessels were sighted off the coasts of San Francisco and Portland, Maine. It seems, according to sources familiar with the matter, that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) owns the barges, but what they will be used for is unclear. Last week, some suggested that they may be floating data centers, using the cool waters to chill servers. The most recent theory is that the barges will be itinerant marketing centers to sell Google's new product, Glass.

Through the looking glass
Google Glass may be the most awaited gizmo soon to hit the general public. The augmented-reality goggles, which are largely controlled by voice commands, show users photos, videos, and data, just like a computer would. So far, the product has only seen very limited distribution, with the company cautioning people not to give away or resell the device.

Now, it looks as if Google plans to speed up distribution of these high-tech spectacles. In the period leading up to Christmas, the company plans to ramp up production of the devices, as well as allow more people to access them. Selling for around $1,500, it's a fairly pricey undertaking.

In any case, Google Glass supplier Himax rallied following the news. Himax produces micro-displays for Google Glass, and is seen by some analysts as a good play on the product's expected popularity. The company has a dominant market share in the liquid crystal on silicon display market, and may also see its products incorporated in some Microsoft devices. In part due to speculation about Google Glass' widespread adoption, the company's stock has soared in recent times.

This has not exactly been the case for Google's prime competitor, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL). Following yet another disappointing report, Apple was down 2%, putting its 12-month decline at around 11%. Analysts were mainly worried about the iPhone 5c's performance in the latest report, while increased competition from Google was also blamed for the company's eroding market share. Additionally, Apple doesn't seem to have an answer to Google Glass, yet.

So what's with the barge?
When reports on Google's super-secret barges first surfaced, the story was that the tech giant was building floating data centers. When Google was granted a patent for such a seafaring structure in 2009, the idea was plausible enough. The advantages of a floating data center include easy access to cooling and power, as well as a mobile and modular structure that could, theoretically, be deployed anywhere.

Now, a theory has popped up that the barges may be floating Glass stores. Google is no stranger to unusual marketing efforts, and floating barges that sell Glass might be the company's answer to Apple stores. Unlike Google, Apple has its own retail locations to showcase and sell its gadgets, which have proved to be a fruitful move. A floating Google store would certainly be an interesting, if somewhat unconventional, way to showcase upcoming products.

The bottom line
If the goal of Google's barges was to draw attention to the company's Glass, it has certainly succeeded. Tech sites are buzzing with speculation as to the purpose of these vessels, with the latest theory suggesting that they may be floating Glass stores meant as an answer to Apple's retail locations. So far, nothing is clear yet, but the news certainly makes for an interesting story from a company that loves unusual marketing projects.

A version of this article, written by Daniel James, originally appeared on

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