Microsoft reportedly opens a Google X-like special research lab of its own

microsoft retail storeWhen you think of Microsoft and Google, you picture two very different companies; one is staid and corporate, and the other has self-driving cars and believes in moonshots. The reality of things is probably a little different from that picture, but it’s a picture that has endured over the year because of Google’s very public willingness to indulge in what the company describes as “moonshots”.

That’s something that Microsoft also wants to start doing, according to a report in ZDNet which states that Microsoft has a new Special Projects Group inside Microsoft Research. The new special projects good is tasked with working on “disruptive technologies that could benefit the company and society,” as per a career listing on Microsoft’s website.

According to sources that spoke to ZDNet, this new group is meant to work along similar lines to the Google X labs, which work on Google’s moonshots – research products that may never see the light of day. The report states that the new team at Microsoft will be led by Norman Whitaker, formerly the Deputy Director of the Information Innovation Office at the US Department of Defence’s research body, Darpa.

The Google X lab hasn’t been too successful in the product space if you consider products that have ‘shipped’; its most famous product is Google Glass. It’s been in the news a lot though, thanks to ideas like driverless cars and buying the makers of military robots. And some other ideas are even more far-fetched than these.

That’s something that Microsoft’s new team doesn’t seem to be aiming at. There’s no talk about space elevators or face computers; instead, according to ZDNet, the new lab will work in the areas of systems, networking, distributed computing, UX design, devices, cloud, mobility, machine learning/ artificial intelligence, big data and data-centre technologies. In other words, things that could actually be in your hands.

Since this is close to the mandate of Microsoft Research anyway, why the need for a special group? Ideas like the Courier tablet and Microsoft Surface (not the tablet) have not always gotten the attention they deserved in the public space, so it’s possible that this move is designed as much for changing the conversation around Microsoft, as it is towards actual research. That’s something that will only become clear over time, as some of the work of this team becomes public knowledge.


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