Is Google floating mystery barges around the world?

Two cargo barges have popped up at either edge of the country, prompting wild rumors about whether Google is behind the floating enigmas and what projects could possibly be in store.

Eric Risberg/AP/File
Google cofounder Sergey Brin wears a pair of Google Glass. Google could be developing a Google Glass concept store in the San Francisco Bay.

On the edge of Treasure Island, an old Navy base in the San Francisco Bay, a 250-foot long, 72-foot wide, four-story tall cargo barge with the registration BAL 0010 floats in the Pacific waters.

It wouldn’t be so strange to see something like this in the bay. After all, Treasure Island has gone through significant development recently and its abandoned hangars are often used for movie sets.

But this barge isn’t open to the public, and has heavy security at all times. It is also attached to a warehouse called Hangar 3, which has also been heavily guarded since it started working with a new tenant last year. And about three thousand miles across the country, a similar barge created by the same company at the same time with the registration BAL 0011, is floating off the quaint seaside town of Portland, Maine, also shrouded by the same high security and mystery.

Who is behind BAL 0010 and 0011? Technology website CNET say all signs point to Google, but what exactly Google could be doing with these giant barges has yet to be seen.

Last Friday, CNET writer Daniel Terdiman first reported that there was a mysterious barge floating at Treasure Island, and the tech giant may be behind it. According to Mr. Terdiman, Google filed a patent for a “water-based data center” in 2009 that roughly matches the description of this barge, the aim of which would be to house data centers in cargo boxes that could be cooled by sea water and easily transported.

Though CNET reported that Hangar 3 was being leased by a different company, attempts to contact anyone on the lease or the connected real estate have either gone unanswered, disconnected, or denied. A local coffee shop barista says she served several people with Google credit cards and Hangar 3 access. A nearby worker told the CNET reporter to go to a Hangar 3 entrance when asked where to find Google.

Not to mention, what is widely identified as Google CEO Larry Page’s yacht has been seen parked next to the floating barge off Treasure Island.

Though these reports have yet to be substantiated, rumors have quickly swirled around the Internet as to what Google could be up to, if Google is indeed behind the barges.

The most probable is the patented data center mentioned above. The Portland Press Herald, who wrote a story about the mysterious Maine barge, talked with two cargo experts, both who say it is feasible to use ocean water to cool large data centers. These data centers could also be transported in case of a natural disaster, or use ocean waves as energy.

The original Google patent also calls for the barge to be three to seven miles offshore, a key distance as three miles from shore used to mean that a boat was in international waters. And with the near-daily new controversy surrounding online information and the NSA, it would seem to make sense that Google would want to protect its information in the most physical way possible. However, Forbes debunked that rumor, pointing out that the range was changed to 12 miles offshore a few years ago, and Google would still need a cable to access the data, which the NSA (or any other cyber eavesdropper) could easily intercept. Not to mention, a top-heavy barge wouldn’t do too well in choppy, open sea.

And there can’t be a tech story these days without a mention of wearable tech. CNET wrote an updated story Monday that cited a tipster who had heard rumors of the barge being transformed into a Google Glass store. The portable stores could then be floated about the country, in a way to launch a store without Google looking like an Apple or Microsoft copycat. However, KPIX, a CBS-affiliated station in San Francisco, says that Google did not have a permit to do anything commercial on the barge. Whether that was intentional or not, remains to be seen.

Though, once again, all of these rumors are unconfirmed by Google, the search-engine giant hasn’t been the best at keeping secrets lately. Last week, Google accidentally debuted its yet-to-be-announced Nexus 5 smart phone when a photo of it showed up briefly on the Google online store.

Are these all ploys to keep the public chatting about Google while the tech company plans something big? Or is it all just a misguided set of coincidences? We’ll all have to keep our eyes trained on Treasure Island to find out.

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