It's hard to understand why Google is investing in this technology. First, it duplicates dozens of similar such projects organized at universities and by the Pentagon. Second, it's hard to image how the technology could be used by Google.
I wonder if Google thinks it will one day unleash a fleet of unmanned Priuses to snap photos of people's houses, download their Wi-Fi passwords or whatever its StreetView cars do, but minus the drivers. I'm pretty sure that will never happen. It all seems like a big waste of money to me.
And why did Google get into the handset hardware business? What were they thinking? The company launched its Nexus One phone in January of last year, only to discontinue the handset in June. Google seemed genuinely surprised that people wanted tech support.
The collective effect of all these closures and random projects makes Google look like amateur hour. But mostly, they just waste a whole lot of money that Google may need someday.
Meanwhile, other costs are growing fast. As I detailed in this space earlier in the month, Google is facing a sudden and growing series of lawsuits and anti-trust investigations.
The company will have to spend a lot more on lawyers, and also on lobbyists, if it wants to keep governments at bay.
Google has recently embraced another strategy that involves spending money to save money. The company is getting into a bidding war with Research In Motion (RIM) over an acquisition of Nortel Networks. Both want that company's pile of 6,000 patents, which could help either company avoid costly patent-infringement lawsuits. Google has reportedly offered $900 million for the company.
If Google had invented a time machine rather than a self-driving car, they could send Sergey Brin back in time to tell Eric Schmidt not to allow all that reckless, pointless spending.
Yes, Google is still sitting on a big pile of cash. They have money to burn. But as expenses grow, competition gets tougher and ad revenue remains ever volatile, maybe burning money isn't such a great idea.