Google X head: Sorry, world, no Google jetpacks for you

Google X considered a user-safe jetpack, but it was among hundreds of "moonshot" projects the unit regularly jettisons.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
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Astro Teller, head of Google X Joan E. Solsman/CNET

NEW YORK -- Google X, the search giant's secretive laboratory arm, considered creating a jetpack that "wasn't a death trap," its head Astro Teller said Tuesday, but the project lacked the kind of practicality that all Google X projects require to move forward.

Teller -- known as Google X's "captain of moonshots," its term for long-term projects to solve a profound world problem -- said Google X will "turn off 100 things a year, easily," because the division aims for projects to fail early in the process rather than later, noting Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin "focus more on not letting things get fully birthed that don't make sense."

Though the vast majority of Google's revenue and profit derives from its core search advertising business, the company has defined itself by investing in a wide-ranging services and businesses that could position it to lead the biggest tech business of the future. Google X is the breeding ground for the most outlandish and ambitious projects of the bunch.

One of Google X's abandoned early ideas: a safety-guaranteed jetpack.

"Wouldn't it be awesome if we had a jetpack that wasn't a death trap?" Teller said, speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt here. "The problem is that it is going to be so power inefficient. I just couldn't live with that...it would be as loud as a motorcycle."

Google X's underlying aspiration won't be met "until we've started saving lives, we're not there yet," Teller said, adding that some of the central considerations to Google X projects include how technology can be used to get technology out of the way and whether a technology makes the user more human rather than less so.

He said two realms that he sees the greatest opportunity are agriculture and batteries. Agriculture is one of the largest and most inefficient industries in the world and the source of a great proportion of the planet's solid waste and carbon emissions, which also makes it one of the sources of greatest opportunity for Google X. In batteries, "a 10x improvement in energy density...would change the world so radically we can't even see" the ultimate implications, he said.

Google Glass, Google X's project probably most intimately integrated so far with consumers, is working to become "something that levels up your experience of the world but all you have to do is put it on," Teller said. "Google Glass isn't all the way there."

Earlier Tuesday, Google X spinoff company Flux, which develops building construction software, said it raised $8 million in a Series A round of funding.

Google shares recently traded down about 1 percent, or $5.01, at $522.80.