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Google 'encouraged too much attention,' too soon to Glass

Astro Teller, head of the search giant's Google X research lab, talks about Google's missteps with Glass -- and beyond.

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Google's Astro Teller says companies need to embrace failure. Richard Nieva/CNET

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Google X research lab is home to audacious experiments like driverless cars, Wi-Fi-connected balloons and Google Glass, the company's Web-connected eyewear.

But Google likes to remind people that the lab produces something else as well: failure, a lot of failure (as in, if you're not failing, you're not learning).

Google on Tuesday acknowledged some of the missteps it took with Glass, which has been mired in controversy since its release. Google early on gave access to the device to a community of early testers it called "Explorers."

"We made one great decision and one not-so-great decision," said Astro Teller, head of Google X, in a keynote speech at the South by Southwest tech, film and music conference, here.

Google's great move was creating the Explorer program. And that bad call, which was "closer to a failure"? "We allowed, and sometimes even encouraged, too much attention to the program," he said.

"We also did things to encourage people to think this was a finished product."

Google Glass was a highlight of South by Southwest two years ago. Since then, fascination for the device has given way to scorn. Privacy advocates worried about how people would use Glass's built-in camera. And in January, Google discontinued the prototype version of the product, though the company said it is working on a consumer version.

Google, the world's largest search engine, looks to Google X to experiment with new projects and products and help it widen its scope beyond search for future revenue.

Teller on Tuesday also talked about the lab's other initiatives, including its Loon Wi-Fi balloons and drone delivery experiment, Project Wing. And he listed other failures, such as sending an expedition to a remote area in the South Pacific to retrieve an exploded balloon. Teller said he'll provide an update on Project Wing's progress later in the year.

"Failing doesn't have to mean not succeeding," he said. "It can be, 'Hey we tried that. We can go forward, smarter.'"