That Time Google Made Creepy Sailing Showrooms

In the early 2010s, Google tried (and failed) to construct barges that could travel around and show off new products.
That Time Google Made Creepy Sailing Showrooms

We may be living in the early stages of a cyberpunk dystopia (and not even a fun one), but at least the tech giants aren’t building creepy mysterious barges anymore. This is what Google tried to do in the early 2010s. Oh, and Google Glass was involved, so that always makes a story better.

Two barges were constructed on the East and West Coast, with one eventually finding its way to Portland, Maine, and the other to San Francisco. In terms of size, the barges looked like they were part of some plan to make giant weird tech arks. Each barge had 63 shipping containers, stacked four containers high.


Behold: The future.

There were questions regarding the barges as they were being built, but the public truly started to dig in the final months of 2013. It was known that Google was involved, but the exact purpose of the barges was unknown. Even stranger, they used a dummy company called By and Large LLC to file some of their documents.

So, apart from being eyesores, what was the point of the barges? It turned out that they were not part of Google’s plans for world domination. Instead, they were meant to be traveling showrooms where Google could woo visitors with the latest technology. The “latest technology” referred to here mostly means Google Glass, the failed attempt at smart glasses. Yes, there is an alternate timeline where someone could try out Google Glass on a floating showroom. The barges would include three floors of showroom space and a top floor designed for parties. 

Mikepanhu/Wiki Commons

The only product worthy of being shown off on a failed barge: Google Glass

This did not happen.

Public perception of the barges wasn’t great. Shockingly, when you build massive structures on water vessels and don’t tell people what they are, they aren’t super thrilled. What truly did Google in, though, was continuous clashes with the Coast Guard. 

Google built the barges to be traveling showrooms, but they also probably liked the idea of getting past certain regulations by having water-based structures. This, however, put their project under the watchful eyes of the Coast Guard, and this would ultimately be the downfall of the Google barges.

Because each barge contained 5,000 gallons of fuel, the Coast Guard concluded that they were fire hazards. This was a major safety concern, but the Coast Guard had 20 pages of other issues that would need to be addressed for the barges to actually see use. With their plan of seemingly acting first and asking for permission later having backfired, Google would’ve had to do a lot to make their showroom barges work. Rather than jump through the hoops, Google abandoned the project, and both barges were sold off in 2014.

And considering the failure that became of Google Glass, it seems unlikely that trying it out on a barge would’ve made any amount of difference.

Top Image: cloud2013/Flickr

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