Top 5 Google Labs projects is a self-described "playground" where anyone can try out almost-finished Google experimental projects. Recent alumni include Google Maps, Alerts, and its SMS text message directory service.

The current collection showcases 50-plus "bubbling test tubes." There's no guarantee that any will graduate to full Google status, but here are five projects that are worth donning a virtual lab coat to test for yourself.

2. Earth Engine

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    Come play with Google Labs.
    Bob Staake
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At the International Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, last month, Google Labs launched Earth Engine. The new service compiles more than 25 years' worth of satellite imagery and makes it available to scientists for monitoring and measuring environmental changes on a global scale.

"Scientific analysis can transform these images from a mere set of pixels into useful information," according to the Official Google Blog, "such as the locations and extent of global forests, detecting how our forests are changing over time, directing resources for disaster response or water resource mapping."

Although many Google Lab experiments are open to the public, full access to Earth Engine has only been extended to select partners – scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and universities that work with such data for a living.

Intrigued novices, however, can play with the maps and data sets that have already been created by these groups by going to the Google Labs website.

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