Alphabet’s X research division has developed a new material lighter than air

Alphabet’s secretive research division ‘X’ has developed a new material which is lighter than air and capable of changing how we interact with the sky, according to Astro Teller, head of X. 

Teller revealed information about the secretive project in his latest TED talk in Vancouver.

He said in a version of his talk posted on Backchannel: “Now we’re investigating a new material that’s super strong but wants to float. It could change how we interact with the sky, buildings, transportation, and more. Stay tuned!”

X’s mission is to invent and launch “moonshot” technologies that it hopes could someday make the world a radically better place.

The boss of Alphabet’s secretive research division also talked about other projects which were later rejected.

Vertical farming

X planned on building vertical farms for growing lettuce and other crops.

‘Vertical farming uses 10 times less water and 100 times less land than conventional methods, and you can grow food close to where it’s consumed, so you don’t have to transport it long distances,’ he wrote.

‘We made progress on many of the issues like automated harvesting and efficient lighting but in the end we couldn’t get staple crops like grains and rice to grow this way, so we killed the project.

‘If someone comes up with a dwarf species of rice, let us know — because that might crack the puzzle!’

Cargo airships

The research division was also working on ‘a lighter­-than-­air, variable buoyancy cargo ship’, which Teller called a ‘real moonshot’.

However, the project was killed off because of the high costs associated with building a prototype.

Teller said that R&D and materials to design and construct the first one would cost close to $200M, which ‘is way too expensive for us to get the first data point on whether we’re on the right track.’

Failure is important

Teller told the audience that failure is hugely important at X.

“The only way to get people to work on big, risky things – audacious ideas – is to make it safe to fail,” he said.

“The Silicon Valley hype machine has created this myth that visionaries are effortlessly creating the future. Don’t believe the hype,” he added.