Yesterday the New York Times revealed the existence of Google X — a playground for engineers working on the next generation of Google's wilder projects. However, the company is so secretive about the lab that very few employees are even aware of its existence, with one engineer likening the covert nature of the department to the CIA. Two teams split between the Mountain View campus and a top-secret location are reportedly toiling over "100 shoot-for-the-stars ideas," from the driverless car first shown at a TED conference in Long Beach earlier this year, to the next generation of connected devices including smart fridges, light bulbs, and plant pots. Google's co-founder Sergey Brin is said to be closely involved with the team, and although the researchers' remit is often a long way from Google's core search business, the company's success in search means that it's comfortably able to subsidise this work. This ethos ties in well with Google's famed 20 percent time — for one day a week all staff are allowed time to work on personal projects, which has born products like Reader and Gmail.

The team includes a number of hires from other major technology companies and universities, such as Microsoft, Nokia Labs, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, New York University, and Stanford; including Johnny Chung Lee (one of the engineers behind Kinect) and a number of the brightest robotics experts in the country. As Rodney Brooks, an MIT Professor emeritus of computer science and AI told the NYT, "They're pretty far out in front right now. But Google's not an ordinary company, so almost nothing applies."