Sergey’s secret Google projects, and the challenge of 1,000 blooming flowers

October 20, 2011

What’s Sergey Brin been up to since his pal Larry Page took the reins as CEO of Google, the Internet search company that the pair co-founded 13 years ago?

Brin, who spoke at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, discussed his new role at Google, which he said is focused on advanced research projects like Google’s famous self-driving cars, as well as some “infrastructure” projects.

Brin said he was optimistic that Google’s so-called “autonomous cars” would eventually make it to market – though he noted that the vehicles still required a good deal of research and development before being ready for prime time.

The cars have successfully completed a 1,000-mile challenge, covering tricky terrain such as San Francisco’s steep and wind-y Lombard Street without human intervention, Brin told a small group of reporters during a media briefing that followed his on-stage appearance.

But, he said, “we need to move on to doing a million miles. And the level of reliability that we need for a real consumer product is high. And we’re getting there.”

Brin told reporters that Google remains committed to the spirit of open innovation within the company, including the famous 20 percent time that allows Google engineers to devote time to side-projects.

But he said that Google’s “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach to product development created a glut of products that were not always up to Google standards.

“When we started the company we didn’t have much of a brand, and if anything got some traction in the market it was a pretty good signal that people really cared about it,” Brin said.

“Now with the Google brand behind it…we’ve launched weaker services, quite honestly, and they’ve got a lot of traction just because it’s called ‘Google Blah.’ And we don’t want to be left with a complicated array of perhaps good-not-great services,” he said.

Speaking of products, Brin also hinted at other “stealth projects” under his stewardship – at least one of which could see the light of day in the next few months.

“There’s something I’m hoping to ship within an existing Google product before the end of the year. Stay tuned,” he said.

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