The mysterious barge that Google has been secretly building off the coast of San Francisco is coming under official scrutiny, Reuters reports. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission will be given access to the vessel so that it can be determined which permits are required by Google and the proprietors of the Treasure Island pier to which the barge is secured. Although the precise function of these secret barges remains unknown, they will be used for exhibition space for new Google technologies.
“We want to make sure that the permits that are used by the owners of the pier actually allowed for construction to happen,” Larry Goldzband, the executive director of the commission, tells Reuters. Goldzband calls it “a preliminary and formal enforcement investigation.” The commission has the authority to administer fines and cease-and-desist orders if Google is found to violate regulations.
Google has built four of these floating barges since 2010. Two of them are currently docked at Treasure Island and one of them at Portland, Maine. One of the barges at Treasure Island and the one at Maine each have a superstructure built out of shipping containers stacked four-high, welded together like adjoining apartment suites. The other two barges do not have this superstructure.
Treasure Island is an artificial landform constructed in San Francisco Bay and is considered a neighborhood of San Francisco. It was completed for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, a Word’s Fair. It was meant to be an airport for transpacific flying boats, but it was made into a naval station when the Pacific War broke out in 1941, remaining that way until it was decommissioned in 1997. According to the 2010 United States Census, the island has 2,500 inhabitants.
CBS reports that the two barges with the four stories of boxes on top are to be used for grandiose product demonstrations of some kind. The bottom three levels are product showrooms and the top level is a “party deck.” The reason Google has constructed these spaces on docked barges rather than dry land is likely so that city building permits will not be applicable, and this makes it easier to keep the big secret under wraps. The project is so covert that government officials have been required in the past to sign confidentiality agreements.
SF Gate reports that the secret Google barges are to be used as “floating retail stores,” citing a leaked report by Turner Construction, the company responsible for building the barges. They will allegedly dock at San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York to showcase consumer products. The barge has previously been referred to as a “studio” or “temporary technology exhibit space.”
An official Google statement released on 6 November 2013 addressed the mysterious barges: “Although it’s still early days and things may change, we’re exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology.”
Google has said that they are now making changes to the design of the secret barge at the request of the U.S. Coast Guard. According to Commander Jason Tama, it is common for the Coast Guard to inspect newly constructed vessels to check for adherence to environmental, safety, and security concerns.
Many are speculating that the Google barge(s) will be used to introduce a new product such as the latest Google Glass, but the company must first pass the scrutiny of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
By K. Elsner