Cars and stars as Google's Page takes the stage

Not to be outdone by other companies' star power, Larry Page shares keynote spotlight with Robin Williams--and a robotic car.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
3 min read
LAS VEGAS--Google co-founder Larry Page shared his keynote stage at the Consumer Electronics Show on Friday with comedian Robin Williams, NBA star Kenny Smith and a robotic car.

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Larry Page onstage
Google co-founder talks about Google's Video Store and more.

Google wasn't the only company to trot out the celebrities. This final major speech of the three-day confab followed appearances by Tom Hanks, during the Sony keynote Thursday, and Tom Cruise and Ellen DeGeneres, during the Yahoo keynote Friday.

But Page made the week's most dramatic entrance: Wearing a long white lab coat, jeans and sneakers, he rode onstage standing on the back bumper of Stanley, the driverless, robotic car that triumphed in last year's DARPA Grand Challenge in the Mojave Desert. Stanley was sponsored by Stanford University, where Page met fellow Google founder Sergey Brin as a PhD student.

After dismounting, Page wowed the audience with a demonstration movie of Google Earth that featured dizzying pans across the globe, and he said Google is working with Volkswagen on a prototype of Google Earth for car dashboards.

Page also unveiled Google Fast Food, an in-car system that directs vehicles to the nearest fast food restaurant when an in-dash button is pushed. But that was actually a bit of humor, which was followed by an announcement that Google has made a version of the search engine available for the BlackBerry PDA.

Joined by CBS chief Leslie Moonves, Page cut the ribbon on the Google Video Store, which will let people rent or buy downloadable videos online, including contemporary and classic CBS TV fare. Google Pack, a free service that bundles and automatically installs and maintains Google software and other programs, including Firefox and Adobe Reader, was the next product to take a bow.

However, the highlight of the event was Williams' improvisation and jokes. He came onstage wearing a Google-colored wire helmet, a possible allusion to his robot role in the movie "Bicentennial Man," and proceeded to riff and free associate in response to technical terms Page presented. He sped up his speech in response to the word "download" and described "firewall" as a "condom for your computer."

Page, humble and soft-spoken, smiled boyishly alongside Williams and asked the comedian to help moderate the audience question-and-answer session at the end. When Page was asked a question about language translation on the Web, Williams quipped, "We have English-to-English translation for the president, and it's not working very well."

Earlier, Page discussed what he said was a "personal passion of his"--the standardization of basic computer products. Why can't a USB port be used to monitor a front door, and a Bluetooth cell phone be used to start a car, he asked. Any wire should be able to be used for multiple purposes, such as running software, charging devices and running other devices, and adapters should work with everything, he said.

"Why is there no standard for keypads and screens? I want to be able to buy a touch screen" to plug into a computer anywhere that turns it into an alarm clock or stereo control, he said. "I'm amazed we don't have devices like these, and the reason we don't is because we lack standards."

In a question-and-answer session with journalists after the keynote, Page said Google doesn't have immediate plans to solve these problems and that he complained about the issue merely to get people talking about it.

Google was rumored to have been planning to announce a Google PC that would serve as an Internet gateway linking various devices in the home. The company denied the reports earlier in the week, and executives continued to do so during questions on Friday, saying it has partners to do that.