This week Google co-founder Larry Page announced the launch of a new "moonshot" company being fully funded by Google called Sidewalk Labs, with the broad and vague mission to "improve life in cities for everyone through the application of technology to solve urban problems." What would be an example of such technology, you might ask? That is an excellent question, and it's pretty clear that Google isn't sure yet either.
They've got Daniel Doctoroff, a former deputy mayor of New York under Michael Bloomberg as well as former chief executive at Bloomberg's company, heading up Sidewalk Labs, which will be NY-based, and it sounds like the company was largely his idea. As the New York Times reports, Google engineering manager Adrian Aoun has been "traveling, studying and scouting the opportunity in urban technology" over the last year, and Page thanked him for bringing Doctoroff on board.
Doctoroff says there are "extraordinary business opportunities and opportunities for improving quality of life." But what are they?
Page talks about how the "availability of transportation affects where people choose to live, which affects housing prices, which affects quality of life," almost implying that Sidewalk Labs will somehow be able to supplant city planning departments through technology?
Other examples thrown out include "technologies to address issues like cost of living, efficient transportation and energy usage"; "tools that let residents instantly evaluate and provide feedback on city services"; "dashboards to measure and visualize traffic patterns"; and Doctoroff mentions "'technology platforms that people can plug into' for things like managing energy use or altering commuting habits."
So yes! There are many ideas there, and it all sounds very "moonshot"-esque. And the Times tried to determine how much money they're throwing behind this, and that is unclear, but Page calls it a "modest" investment.
Page compares the company to Calico, the R&D company that Google started with the aim of extending human life spans and solving diseases of the elderly like dementia. And as The Verge notes, "As shown by Calico and schemes such as Google X's internet-providing Project Loon, the company is focused on investing in a better future but for now, Sidewalk Labs' vague language reminds us that even Google isn't yet sure how to get there."
Potato canon, anyone?