Few monuments illustrate the tension between state law and tech-world secrecy more perfectly than the mysterious four-story barge docked off the coast of Treasure Island, rumored to be either a data center or, more likely, a floating stockroom for Google's new line of wearable computing.
Neither the US Coast Guard nor Google would comment on the record -- a Coast Guard spokesman punted questions to the barge's project manager, who has yet to get back to us -- but multiple news outlets reported yesterday that the tug was ultimately bound for Fort Mason, where it would open as a retail store. That was Google's plan, at least, until officials from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission clamped down, demanding that the tech company obtain a proper permit.
To do that, Google would have to clearly redefine the vessel's purpose, and unveil its business plan -- a cardinal sin for a Silicon Valley giant whose main goal, beyond making information accessible, is to protect its own trade secrets. Thus, SS Google Glass couldn't move forward, and the barge remains marooned at Treasure Island. It appears Google may have sunk buckets of money into a stack of useless shipping containers.
Perhaps the tech giant can take comfort in knowing that its errant data center isn't the first doomed vessel to be seen bobbing off the island's shore. In fact, another errant tug made a small splash in the local media four years ago, after it sunk near Pier 1 and required rescue by a 400-foot long leg crane. The Coast Guard contracted with multiple private companies to complete the rescue operation, which required two access channels to be dug beneath the ship's hull, and 90-foot segments of chain cable to drag it ashore.
The fate of this boat, called the Wenonah, may betoken a similar end for Google's Flying Dutchman. And if that's the case, it could also cost quite a bit of money for removal.
Then again, there's always the possibility that Silicon Valley could "disrupt" coastal conservation laws and push the un-permitted project ahead. And perhaps that was the intent all along. Google isn't really known for moving fast and breaking things, but it's hard to imagine why else the company would launch an ambitious project that required negotiations with many agencies, in multiple jurisdictions.
What's more interesting, Google apparently has an identical barge off the coast of Maine, suggesting that nautical stores are, indeed, part of its business strategy. And according to Gizmodo, it has a patent on the idea of floating data centers. Perhaps we'll see one dock at Chelsea Piers any day now.