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Google X: Where Google meets world

Google X division honcho Astro Teller tells the Solid Conference in San Francisco just why the "moonshot" lab exists.

Google's self-driving car is one of many "moonshot" projects that the company's Google X division is working on to better blend hardware and software. Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- There's only one way to use technology to solve problems in the real world, Google X director Astro Teller told the Solid Conference crowd at the Fort Mason Pavillion on Wednesday morning.

To solve physical, real-world problems, Teller said to a full house of several hundred people, "you have to build physical things and test them."

The Solid Conference is a two-day confab where techies gather to talk about the latest trends and developments in the intermingling of hardware and software. That made it the perfect place for Teller to explain why the software-based Google was investing in Google X's ambitious hardware projects such as high-altitude balloon-borne Wi-Fi, wearable Internet glasses , and a self-driving car. They're so ambitious, Google CEO Larry Page called them "moonshots."

"There are inherent benefits to developing in the physical world," Teller said. The scientist and entrepreneur cited how the experience of building self-driving car technology helped improve how the car performs when facing a real-world situation such as passing a bicyclist. The software improved because of corrections made after real-world experiences.

By a similar measure, he explained that embedded intelligence provided by software creates real-world solutions that mechanical engineering can't solve. A car that can automatically avoid that same bicyclist thanks to software is safer than one that can't see the bicyclist without it.

The future of the physical world, Teller said, will come from putting software intelligence into real objects.