Google (S GOOG) under co-founder Larry Page has become known for its crazy moonshot projects: Self-driving cars, Google Glass, and Project Loon: the internet relayed by helium balloons. But Page, who became the company’s CEO in early 2011, said during the company’s Q3 earnings call Thursday that the company — and the tech industry in general — still is spending way too little on these kinds of projects.
“My struggle in general is to get people to spend money on long-term R&D,” he said. Page specifically referenced Calico, the company’s recently-announced project to help people to live longer though medical breakthroughs, saying that while Google was spending some serious money on Calico, that amount was “not significant” for the company as a whole.
He went on to complain that most other companies spend very little on experimental research: “Even companies with big budgets, 99 percent gets spent on incremental stuff,” he lamented. But he also admitted that spending big on moonshots is actually harder than it seems. “It’s very difficult to spend meaningful amounts of money … on things that are speculative,” he said.
Analysts on Google’s earnings call had a number of questions about these experimental R&D projects, with a number of them trying to pin Page down on an answer as to when all of these crazy ideas will pay off for Google. Asked about the prospects of self-driving cars, Page said that it was still early days, but added that Google had already managed to change the perception of the technology. “We changed the business from something that wasn’t going to happen at all to something that is now inevitable,” he said. (Of course, with researchers at Stanford and elsewhere having worked on autonomous vehicles for years, one could argue that it would have been inevitable even without Google, but at a slower pace.)
Page also remained noncommittal around Project Loon, again calling it “very early,” but adding that the company was excited about it. He added that the company had to come clean about the project because it was starting to test the balloons in the wild. “We announced it because we had to,” Page said.
Page’s comments came as Google announced solid Q3 results, with revenue growing 12 percent year-over-year to a total of e $14.89 billion across both Google and Motorola. Total net revenue for the quarter was $2.97 billion. However, Motorola is still losing money, and losses on mobile hardware are actually widening: In Q3, Motorola lost $248 million. During the same quarter last year, this was just $192 million.