Sending robots to the moon. Beekeeping. Genetic testing. A bicycle monorail. Google's investments sometimes lend the impression the company doesn't know what to do with all its free cash. Business Insider's Jay Yarow details the company's most bizarre investments below.
Unlike some tech giants, Google isn't afraid to open its wallet and spend the billions in cash it generates from its lucrative search business. Sometimes Google makes smart investments, like when it bought YouTube, or Android. Other times though, Google's decisions leave us scratching our heads. Some examples of weird uses of cash:
Google creating an $86 million low-income housing tax credit
At the end of August, Google announced it was creating an $86 million low income tax credit fund with US Bancorp. In a press release announcing the news Google VP/treasurer Brent Callinicos said, "In recent years there has been a void in affordable housing investment. Our investment with USBCDC allows us to further our goal of providing relief to people who otherwise may not have access to quality housing." Google will be able to offset federal tax liabilities for years thanks to this one, says TechCrunch. [Image: Courtesy of Journal of Tax Credits]
Playing the Energy Market
Google is selling energy on the spot market thanks to a deal where it bought 114 megawatts of Wind power from NextEra Energy. It's a very unusual move to say the least. The power would be enough to power several data centers, but Google doesn't have data centers near the Iowa windfarm it bought the energy from. So, Google is just speculating. [Image: AP]
In fairness to Google, this one isn't that weird and it's not that expensive. Google has an official beekeeper. He takes care of four bees' nests on Google's campus. The chef at Google thought it would be a good idea to have bees nearby for fresh honey. [Image: Mercury News]
Invested $1 million in shweeb, a human powered monorail This one is just crazy. Shweeb puts people in clear pods which are powered by people kicking their legs as if on a bicycle. Google gave the company $1 million to see if it can make the Shweeb an eco-friendly transportation company.
Google fiber optics for a super fast internet
Google wants to build super fast fiber Internet networks in a few towns in America. Why? Well a Google rep one tried to explain to us that it's good for Google if more people use high speed Internet. Okay, we guess. But why is Google doing this? [Image: via Trends Updates]
Investment in Clearwire
Google invested $500 million in Clearwire a few years back. At the time, Google said Clearwire woul, "provide wireless consumers with real choices for the software applications, content and handsets that they desire." And that's why it was investing. Clearly, it changed its mind about Clearwire at some point because it hasn't put anymore money in. And we're not sure how the investment helps Google now.[Image: jwalsh/Flickr]
Prototype mirror for solar
Google is very into the clean energy market. To that end it's investing in building a prototype of a solar panel that could reduce the cost of solar energy by 2X. Neat. But again, why is Google doing this?
$3.9 million in 23andMe
The decision to invest $3.9 million in 23andMe, the startup founded by Sergey Brin's wife was controversial. 23andMe immediately used the money to pay back Sergey who had loaned $2.6 million out of his own pocket. This has nothing to do with Google's core business, and it sure looks bad, so why do it?[Image: Robert Scoble via Flickr]
The $30 million Google Lunar X Prize Google is dangling $30 million out there for the first privately funded team to "to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth." [Image: via Tech Shout]
Google is a web-based advertising and software company. Why does it blow money on things like spacetrips and bicycle-powered monorails? These are obviously non-core businesses and investments. Our guess: Google doesn't spend a lot of money on traditional advertising. Maybe funding quirky projects like windmills and beekeeping is Google's way of defining its brand. These projects also likely boost employee morale.
That's fine and good, but if shareholders get another year so of flat stock due to a decelerating single revenue stream, they might start wondering why the company's money doesn't entirely go toward re-investments closer to Google's core competencies.