Google is, by nature, a tech company. But gone are the days when “technology” was confined in electronics inside the living room or, more recently, inside our pockets. All technology, no matter how diverse or different, are developed for one ulterior goal: making our lives better. That is the basic idea behind Google’s launch of its new company, Sidewalk Labs. With Sidewalk, Google is dipping its toes into urban development, researching and developing technology that will hopefully be used to improve life in the city, whether it be for residents, business, or governments.
From time to time, Google embarks on an enterprise that is only just a bit related to its core business, but still within the confines of the wider technology industry. That is, for example, the mandate of Google X. That is the same setup with Sidewalk, albeit more formal and more philanthropic. While Google X mainly concerns itself with almost any moonshot project, Sidewalk is meant to focus specifically on urban technology.
Technology has already made life in the city bearable or even easier, but it only affects individuals on a temporary basis. Maps and navigation apps can help us avoid traffic, but they do not solve the problem of traffic and congestion in the long term. Apps can tell apartment hunters where the cheapest offers are, but they don’t really help in bringing down the cost of living to more manageable levels.
That is where Sidewalk comes in. Headed by Dan Doctoroff, former CEO of Bloomberg and New York City’s Deputy Mayor of Economic Development and Rebuilding, the company will focus on technology that will eventually help make transportation more efficient, decrease cost of living, reduce energy usage, and even help governments to become more efficient. Those are definitely big and ambitious goals, which only makes them even more important.
At the moment, no new product, direction, or even focus has been announced beyond the generic “making a city better” mission. Being Google, however, we can bet it will leverage many of the tools and data already available to it, like traffic data from Maps and Waze, population congestion based on the pooling of Android devices, citizen reports from social networks, and the like. It is definitely not your usual Google thrust and it will be interesting to see what the new company will be able to come up with.