10 Weird Patents That Google Owns

Floating Wave-powered Server Farm
A shot of the mysterious barge being erected in the San Francisco Bay, thought to be an unannounced Google project. © STEPHEN LAM/Reuters/Corbis

Every time you do a Google search for cute cat pictures, watch a YouTube video or send a message via Gmail, Google has to use electricity to provide those services. The global information giant burned up about 2.26 million megawatt-hours in 2010 — about the quarter of the output of a typical nuclear power plant [source: Albanesius].

Perhaps to reduce its utility bills, Google filed a patent application for a "Water-Based Data Center" in 2008. The latter would consist of a barge or cargo ship equipped to capture energy from tides and convert it to electricity, which then would be used to power row after row of computer servers for Google's global information network [source: Clidaras et al.].

While this might seem straight out of the old Kevin Costner dystopian sci-fi flick "Waterworld," there have been some hints lately that Google might actually deploy such floating facilities. The San Jose Mercury News reported in October 2013, for example, that Google was building a mysterious four-story structure atop a barge in the San Francisco Bay, for some secret purpose. The newspaper also reported that a similarly massive structure atop a barge was moored in a harbor in Maine [source: Bailey].