Google’s Project Loon head is getting into nuclear power

Google X’s raison d’être is embracing far-out ideas, so it’s no surprise, really that former director Mike Cassidy is wading into the decidedly choppy and always controversial waters of nuclear energy.

Cassidy, whose most recent tenure at Google found him heading up the company balloon-based internet initiative Project Loon, has been quietly working on launching Apollo Fusion. The company is a new energy startup working to develop “revolutionary hybrid reactor technology with fusion power to serve safe, clean, and affordable electricity to everyone.” (It’s also apparently the name of a racing bike. Go figure.)

The company’s recently updated site opens with the words “Let’s quietly redefine what’s possible,” which seems to describe its launch strategy as much as anything. Bloomberg, which first noticed the new information, notes that, until a few days ago, Apollo Fusion’s site simply sported a definition of nuclear fusion, and not much else.

Of course, nuclear power is still a going concern, albeit less eagerly embraced than during its salad days. In October of last year, the U.S. opened a nuclear reactor in Tennessee — its first new one in 20 years. And a number of companies like Transatomic and UPower are promising safe new alternatives to the nuclear power of decades past. The new technologies, coupled with ever-increasing concerns about climate change, have caused many to reconsider nuclear energy as a potential alternative.

As its name implies, Cassidy’s solution is fusion-based, following in the footsteps of companies like the Jeff Bezos-backed TriAlpha Energy and Helion Energy. Fusion, which fuses together rather than splits atoms, is considered safer than the more traditional fission, including less waste created as a byproduct. There also isn’t the same risk of meltdown.

Various versions of fusion technologies have been the subject of undelivered promises for decades, including, notably cold fusion. That was debunked shortly after it was first proposed in the late-1980s.

Cassidy himself doesn’t appear ready to offer up much more information on the subject, though he did acknowledge what may likely be an uphill battle in the recognition of nuclear energy as a viable alternative power source.

 “Environmentalists have struggled for a while over whether nuclear power is good or bad,” he told Bloomberg in an otherwise decidedly limited conversation. “I think most of the more thoughtful environmentalists now view nuclear as good. If you can find a way to do nuclear power that doesn’t have the downsides, the risky, runaway meltdowns, or things like that, it’s a real win for the planet.”

It’s no surprise, of course, that the site features a prominent declaration of safety for the company’s technology. The site explains, “Apollo Fusion hybrid power plants are designed for zero-consequence outcomes to loss of cooling or loss of control scenarios and they cannot melt down.”

After all, for many, notions of nuclear power still elicit troubling images of tragedy, bolstered by recent events like 2011’s Fukushima disaster. Public opinions don’t appear to be trending in a positive direction, either. A Gallup poll from roughly this time last year notes that, for the first time (since the poll was launched in the mid-1990s), a majority of Americans oppose nuclear energy, at 54 percent.

At the very least, it’s hard to imagine too many Americans feeling comfortable with a plant opening in their backyard.

Apollo’s site ticks off other boxes as well, including emission-free production and inexpensive construction and operation. And, the site adds, “Because they’re inherently safe, Apollo Fusion power plants can be nestled in the communities they serve, to make power right where customers need it.”

Again, likely an uphill sell, no matter how safe the new technology is stated to be. Still, Cassidy says the company’s tech has already won over a few key players: namely, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both of whom are reportedly “super enthusiastic” about Apollo’s work, though neither currently count themselves among backers of the company.

Google updates Drive with a focus on its business users

Google today announced a number of major updates to Drive, its online file storage service, which all aim to make it more useful for the company’s business and enterprise users. In addition, the company announced that Drive now has 800 million daily active users, which probably makes it the largest online file storage service in the market today.

“You’re probably familiar with Google Drive as essentially a personal file storage solution,” Google VP of Engineering Prabhakar Raghavan said in an interview ahead of today’s announcement. “We took a look at that and said that a graphical user interface on top of the Unix ‘ls’ command is not that much of a value-add. So we asked: What does it take to really become a player in the enterprise.”

Maybe the most interesting news here is the launch of Drive File Stream. “If you have a Windows or Mac laptop, you should not have to worry about how much on-board hard-drive space you have, did you sync the right thing to the right service, all of that should be managed behind the scenes for you,” Raghavan said. File Stream will handle all of this for you.

To better support the enterprise, though, Google is mostly focusing on making Drive a better service for teams. That means Team Drives, Google’s solution for enterprise file sharing that launched in preview last year, is now generally available, for example. During the preview, which lasted about six months, the team identified a number of issues, especially around permissions, that it needed to fix ahead of a general launch, and it’s now ready to open the project up to all businesses.

Also generally available now is Google Vault for Drive, which offers tools to support the archiving and data retention needs of large enterprises, especially in regulated industries. Raghavan tells me this was long overdue, but the team was waiting for the wider launch of Team Drives before moving Vault for Drive to GA, too.

With this update, Google is also bringing Quick Access from Android to iOS and the web. Quick Access uses the company’s machine learning smarts to learn from your usage patterns and interactions across its services to present you with the right files at the right time. “When you come to drive, you’re looking for a file. You know it’s there, but then you wonder if it was shared with you, if it’s a recent file, should I search for it, etc.,” Raghavan said. “We have enough machine learning power to look at your signals and serve up the file that we think you’re looking for.” This feature is now generally available in both regular Google Drive and Time Drive

Google Search App’s Revamped Carousel UI for Recipes Now Rolling Out

Back in December, it had been spotted that Google was tweaking its search interface to offer users a more refined way to look up recipes. The company is now officially rolling out the update that is sure to give culinary enthusiasts a lot more to cook up.

Google Search App's Revamped Carousel UI for Recipes Now Rolling Out

As and when the new update is made available, Google Search (aka Google app) users will now find advanced suggestions when looking up a particular recipe. A carousal of tappable suggestions will be seen below the search box, offering different versions of the same recipe. So, say you’re looking up chicken wings recipe, hitting the search will then bring up options like ‘honey’, ‘buffalo’, ‘fried chicken’ and more to please chicken wings lovers of all kinds.

Once you select a particular flavour, you’ll see recipes related to your choice from a number of popular sources with bigger cards that add more information with step-by-step instructions, according to Google’s blog post.

In addition to this, the new Search interface is also meant to help you discover new recipes that you wouldn’t otherwise have known about. All of this without having to leave your Google Search page, which is what Google has been aiming for in recent months.

In September, Google was reportedly testing a new interface to make shopping for specific outfits and home décor options easier without having to switch to a different website to purchase.

The new advanced recipe feature is currently being rolled out for Google’s mobile app with no word yet on when the feature will roll out for desktops.

Google’s Santa Tracker Revamped; Android App Gets a Pokemon Go-Like AR Game

Google's Santa Tracker Revamped; Android App Gets a Pokemon Go-Like AR GameThe holiday season is here and just like last year, Google has provided an yearly update to its Santa Tracker App on Android as well its Web version. The fun Android app and the Santa Tracker website were launched two years ago by the search giant for the purpose of entertainment and to celebrate the festive season. This year, interestingly, an augmented-reality game has been added to the Android app apart from design changes to the village.

The augmented-reality game introduced within the Santa Tracker app, called Present Quest, seems to draw its inspiration from Pokemon Go. It asks users to roam around, and using Google Maps collect gifts and drop them at Santa’s Workshop.

Apart from the mini-game, the app comes with a redesigned village and videos just like before. However, most of the videos are currently locked and will be unlocked as we reach closer to the Christmas Day. The primary feature of the app, which allows you to track Santa, will be unlocked and be available on Christmas Eve, i.e., on December 24.

Santa Tracker provides users with a countdown to the Christmas Eve and is meant to provide entertainment to people of all ages. Users of Chromecast can cast from the Android app and explore the village and track Santa’s route through their television.

The new additions to the app seem to be interesting and are likely to keep you engaged till the Christmas Eve, when you will finally be able to track Santa’s route