Google's Wildest Inventions, as Ranked on the Crazy Scale

Google has some crazy ideas for our future. Cars that drive themselves, balloon-powered WiFi, face computers, high-tech contact lenses . . . . anything is possible when your company's assets are worth hundreds of billions and experimental research teams are let loose to turn their tech dreams into reality. Here, the most insane experiments Google is working on.

A Balloon-Powered Internet

A Balloon-Powered Internet

Two words: WiFi. Everywhere. When Hurricane Katrina hit, cell towers went down and communication was nearly impossible. Google's Project Loon, which sends Internet transmitters strapped to giant weather balloons into the stratosphere, wants to fix that.

The balloon's movements are determined by weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which identifies wind speeds and direction at each altitude. Solar panels affixed to the balloon power the transmitter for an entire day. WiFi signals bounce from balloon to balloon and eventually back down to Earth through a special Internet receiver.

Imagine being able to access crucial medical data in the middle of the Amazon or on top of Mount Everest. Nuts!

The project celebrated its first birthday this week by beaming fast LTE data speeds to a remote Brazilian school. One of its balloons logged its 500,000th kilometer (~310K miles) in April 2014.

Crazy scale: 6 (Adventure Instagrams straight from the Arctic tundra. Yes.) Source: YouTube user Project Loon

Self-Driving Cars That Look Like Koalas

Self-Driving Cars That Look Like Koalas

Google pioneered the self-driving car to roam streets for Google Maps Street View footage, but its latest autonomous vehicle is designed for regular folks like you and me.

In Dec. 2014, the tech giant unveiled the "first real build" of a self-driving vehicle prototype that has no brakes, gas pedal, or steering wheel. The electric-powered car will take direction from a smartphone app and then pick you up and automatically drive to the destination you selected. The only thing you can control is a start and stop button for emergencies.

The ultimate hope is to reduce traffic-related incidents caused by things like distracted or drunk driving.

Crazy scale: 9 (Robots on the road!) Source: Google

A Supersmart Contact Lens

A Supersmart Contact Lens

Hello, most wearable tech ever. In January 2014, Google unveiled a health-tracking contact lens for diabetes patients that tracks glucose levels without constant finger pricking.

A miniscule wireless chip and glucose sensor sandwiched between two soft contact lenses uses tears to see if blood sugar levels are above or below dangerous thresholds.

Next up for the experiment are LED devices that notify the wearer of bodily changes in real time.

Crazy scale: 9.5 (Because eyeballs.) Source: Google

The Fastest Internet on the Planet

The Fastest Internet on the Planet

Four very, very lucky cities (Kansas City, KS; Provo, UT; Austin, TX; and Portland, OR) get Internet speeds that are 100 times faster than typical US broadband connections. Now, the technology is expanding to four new cities, Atlanta, Nashville, North Carolina, and Raleigh Durham. This WiFi wizardry is called Google Fiber, a lightning-fast Internet service that offers a one-gigabit-per-second connection for free. Google also throws in a free terabyte of Google Drive storage and a two terabyte DVR recorder that can save up to eight shows at the same time. Fiber subscribers can even receive a Nexus 7 tablet as a remote.

This speed of Internet basically renders the word "buffer time" obsolete. It'll make video chatting, streaming movies, and online file storage much easier. The best part? Fiber is expanding. Google is assessing interest and detailed city studies in 34 different areas (including Nashville; Atlanta; Phoenix, AZ; San Jose, CA; Charlotte, NC; and San Antonio). The service has big economic impacts — it even ignited a startup scene in Kansas City!

Crazy scale: 10 (It's real and expanding!) Source: Facebook user Google Fiber

The Three Experiments That Failed: Hoverboards, Space Elevators, and Teleportation

The Three Experiments That Failed: Hoverboards, Space Elevators, and Teleportation

Google X, the company's experimental arm, was first revealed after an in-depth exposé by Fast Company, which divulged details on three insane experiments that failed to make it out of the lab.

1. Halo's futuristic space elevator concept is shown here, but to Google the tech seemed like a not-too-distant reality. It's exactly what you think it is — an elevator, to space, that would require a carbon nanotube "at least a hundred times stronger than the strongest steel that we have," according to a Google X engineer.

2. Hoverboards were also once on the table. Google considered a floor made of magnets to keep a hoverboard afloat, but it couldn't figure out how to get the board to move in any direction. Bummer.

3. The most ludicrous failure is quite possibly teleportation, the transfer of an object's (or person's) molecules to another location. Unfortunately, this violates a number of laws of physics, so it's not happening. Sorry, Trekkies.

Crazy scale: 10^10 (Too crazy to even exist.) Source: Halo Wikia

The Only Phone You'll Need For the Rest of Your Life

The Only Phone You'll Need For the Rest of Your Life

What if you had the same phone for not one year, not two years . . . but decades? Motorola's Google-owned experimental group is making the impossible possible with Project Ara, a new kind of phone that's designed to last a really, really long time. Instead of hiding a smartphone's components behind a complicated, enclosed seal, its hardware is modular, like a Lego structure, meaning that you can slide different parts in and out at any time.

The phone's modular hardware is controlled by an Android app, which can unlock components that need replacing. There's just one core structural frame that holds the phone's various bits in place. When there's a better mobile camera available, users can upgrade by swapping out just that one piece, rather than buying a whole new phone and disposing of a device with perfectly sufficient working parts.

If all goes well, one of these phones can be yours by Winter 2015.

Crazy scale: 6 (Saving the planet from hundreds of tons of ewaste? Too cool.) Source: Project Ara

A Tablet That Can Map a Room in 3D . . . in Zero Gravity

A Tablet That Can Map a Room in 3D . . . in Zero Gravity

This project is so insane and conceptual, it's hard to wrap your head around. So stay with me here.

Project Tango is the latest development in 3D. It's a tablet with special software that can create a 3D map of any environment using sensors that capture 250,000 three-dimensional measurements every second.

You could potentially walk around your home with this tablet and capture the space's dimensions immediately, without even touching a measuring tape. Project Tango already has some insane real-world use cases. Google teamed up with NASA to a create a robot that works in zero gravity with Tango attached to create the first 3D map of the space station via an autonomous robotic assistant.

Crazy scale: 7 (Can't wait to see what this means for virtual-reality tech like Oculus Rift.) Source: YouTube user Google ATAP

A Computer For Your Face

A Computer For Your Face

This former highly experimental wearable tech is becoming more mainstream — but not without controversy. Google Glass, the computer for your face, is trying to make mobile computing hands-free. A simple utter of "OK Glass" will turn the smart eyewear on, and a tap will allow you to scroll through headlines, get directions, and take photos through a tiny screen above your eye.

These days, it's not so much novel as it is a debate starter for issues of personal privacy (Is that thing on?! Are you recording me right now?) and the pervasiveness of tech in our everyday lives. It is, however, the farthest any non-wristbound wearable tech has gone in terms of recognition.

Crazy scale: 4 (Won't wear it till it's cute. Listening, Warby Parker?) Source: Instagram user popsugartech