Why Google killed a secret project to improve battery life by 5x on mobile devices


Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group was working on a project that would increase battery life on mobile devices by 5 to 10 times before Google killed it, according to a Wall Street Journal report.


Google ATAP is a research skunkworks within the search giant where the Project Ara modular phone and Project Tango 3D mapping initiatives were born. Research teams operate under a "Special Forces" methodology where projects that don't yield good results are killed within two years.

That battery project didn't get even get those two years: It was killed after about nine months, according to an ex-Google ATAP researcher. It just wasn't good enough, and the lab had to move on.

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That fast-moving, scrap-it-if-it-don't-work mindset by was brought to Google ATAP by Dr. Regina Dugan, the ex-DARPA chief who came to Google when it bought Motorola back in 2012. Not only are projects killed after two years, but the project managers in charge of them are let go. It creates a sense of urgency that requires researchers to make the most of their time.

Google ATAP is a different research lab entirely from Google X, the secret arm that birthed the self-driving car, Google Loon Internet balloons, and the much-maligned Google Glass. ATAP dedicated to mobile technology, while Google X is for a broader range of long-term projects - real "moonshots" as Google sometimes calls them.


Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has been a vocal fan of Dr. Dugan and her methods, lauding how quickly it can bring its experiments to a new home elsewhere in Google, or else cut its losses and move on to other projects that might bear fruit.

Project Tango, the 3D mapping tool, was moved into Google properly to assist with augmented reality in games. Two more projects will go from Google ATAP into Google properly, which we may hear more about at the Google I/O developer event later this spring.

A notable exception to the rule is Google's Project Ara, the modular Android smartphone with interchangeable components, which was granted an extension on its two-year deadline because it's promising enough that they're actually testing it in Puerto Rico. And besides, where else in Google would you put a project like that?

Google ATAP is apparently impressing the rest of the company so much that it's giving the labs a new building and more funding, according to the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, Google X's star seems to have fallen a bit with the never-ending hurdles to actually releasing a self-driving car and the embarrassment of Google Glass.

Maybe there's some competition brewing between the two labs.


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