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Google reveals purpose of mystery barges: Interactive learning

Calming speculation about the use of two barges, Google announced plans to use them as interactive spaces to explore new technology on Wednesday. The construction has remained mysterious until now as the project has not yet required any public permits. 

By Martha MendozaAssociated Press / November 6, 2013

A barge built with four levels of shipping containers is seen at Pier 1 at Treasure Island in San Francisco in this October file photo. Google released some information about its plans for two barges on Wednesday.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam/Files

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Internet giant Google says it is exploring using two large barges on the East and West coasts as interactive learning centers.

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A statement released Wednesday from Google's press center helps end weeks of speculation about the purpose of structures on two barges, one being built in the San Francisco Bay, another now floating off Portland, Maine.

"Google Barge ... A floating data center? A wild party boat? A barge housing the last remaining dinosaur? Sadly, none of the above," says the statement. "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."

In a follow up, a Google spokeswoman said the company was referring to both barges.

Google has been building a four-story structure in the heart of the San Francisco Bay for several weeks, but managed to conceal its purpose by constructing it on docked barges instead of on land, where city building permits and public plans are mandatory.

Until now, San Francisco city officials responsible for land use and state officials responsible for the bay have said they didn't know what was being built there. Coast Guard inspectors who visited the construction sites could not discuss what they saw. Lt. Anna Dixon said non-disclosure agreements were signed, but that those were not necessary, and that the Coast Guard, as a practice, doesn't share proprietary information it sees during inspections.

If Google wants to operate an on-barge interactive learning center in the San Francisco Bay, the firm will eventually need to get permission from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

The East Coast barge, built in a New London, Connecticut, harbor in July was recently towed to Maine.

Last year Google proposed building a land-based "Google Experience Center" which would operate as a private museum and demo space as part of new $120 billion Googleplex headquarters it is building in Mountain View, California, where it is headquartered.

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