Google X labs plan robot researchers to map the future

Google could release a fleet of autonomous data collection robots, supplanting its current Google Street View cars insiders suggest, using robotics and AI research from the search giant's mysterious Google X incubator labs. The high-tech exploratory 'bots – which would build on Google's self-driving cars - are one of several outlandish projects currently underway among the company's more prophetic engineers and developers, according to an NY Times piece on the clandestine R&D facility. Other avenues apparently include space elevators and the "web of things" where meshes of network-enabled objects, potentially as mundane as tableware, can communicate online.

Google itself consistently declines to comment on the Google X lab specifically, though its spokespeople confirm that some of the R&D budget goes to projects that might be seen as outlandish. Much of the momentum of Google X – which employs engineers from such illustrious backgrounds as Microsoft, MIT and Nokia Labs – is apparently from company co-founder Sergey Brin, described as "deeply involved" and responsible, along with Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, for the original list of research topics underway.

Even if autonomous data-gathering robot cars don't start handing the Street View team their pink slips, they could end up on the road sooner rather than later. Google is apparently considering manufacturing the self-driving cars in the US, making cash by selling location-based advertising for nearby stores and restaurants. Domestic-scale versions could find roles in homes and offices, meanwhile, and would likely be easier for Google to get through safety testing.

Other home- and office-based projects include ubiquitous networking, with Google apparently hoping to internet-enable all manner of devices and even clothing so that they can tweet your habits, learn your routines and helpfully fill in the gaps such as ordering groceries as and when you run out of them. It all seems terribly practical when viewed alongside space elevators – a fond favorite of sci-fi authors – as a potential way to dramatically reduce the cost of delivering payloads beyond the atmosphere by sending them up a tethered cable that ends in orbit.