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Google unveils startup Sidewalk Labs to improve city living

The search giant is looking to take on problems like reducing energy usage or making transportation more efficient.

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Google is trying to create technology that improves urban living. Screenshot by CNET

In the past five years, Google has tried to tackle problems related to driving, diabetes and Internet access. The search giant's latest target: making cities function better.

The company on Wednesday announced the creation of Sidewalk Labs, a new startup focused on that task. The startup will focus on developing technology around urban living, like how to make transportation more efficient or reducing energy usage.

The company will be based in New York City and led by Dan Doctoroff, former CEO of Bloomberg and deputy mayor of economic development and rebuilding for the City of New York.

The announcement comes as Google has been increasingly ambitious about expanding its scope of products beyond its juggernaut search engine. Its search and advertising business is still the most dominant in the world, making more than $50 billion a year. But as the Internet evolves, co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have been looking to where future revenue streams will come from. The company has made big bets in everything from smartphones to wearable devices to driverless cars.

"Making long-term, 10X bets like this is hard for most companies to do, but Sergey and I have always believed that it's important," Page said Wednesday, in a post on the Google+ social network.

Sidewalk Labs is not the only standalone company Google has set up and left to run semi-independently. In 2013, Google launched Calico, a life sciences company with the overarching goal of extending the human life span. The company is run by former Genentech CEO Arthur Levinson. Last September, Calico announced a partnership with the biopharmaceutical firm AbbVie to pour up to $1.5 billion into a research facility focused on fighting age-related diseases.

Sidewalk Labs' modus operandi will be to develop technology like products and platforms, as well as form partnerships with other firms. Google did not disclose how much it's investing in the project, but Page described the investment as "modest."

"Unprecedented technological change is going to enable cities to be more efficient, responsive, flexible and resilient," Doctoroff said in a statement. "We are at the beginning of a historic transformation."