Sunday , April 21 2024

SPECIAL REPORT: Google in Merced County, A look at Innovative Projects, testing in Central Valley

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The term ‘Google it’ is one of the most popular phrases in popular culture, and if you use the internet you’ve likely used Google to find facts or information. The tech giant is known around the world, but now it’s made a small home in the Central Valley inside of the former Castle Air Base, where it’s testing and developing two very innovative projects– projects that could be life-changing for many.<br /><br />Not only is Google the most widely used internet search engine in the world, but it’s also the leaders in some very high tech projects, like the self driving car and a project aimed at bringing internet to rural areas worldwide. Two projects that are being tested in Merced county, inside of the old Castle Air Force Base.<br /><br />Merced Co. Dir. of Economic Development Mark Hendrickson says, &quot;Technology and research is being conducted right here at castle. Right in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley.&quot;<br /><br />It’s being done by global tech giant, Google. Castle Air Base is a former military facility now owned by Merced county. Mark Hendrickson, the director of Economic Development for Merced County, agreed to escort us around the property.<br /><br />&quot;We were approached by them initially for kind of just a site visit,&quot; says Hendrickson.<br /><br />One site visit, led to another and at the end of 2013, the deal was done. Google signed a two year lease, for just under $500,000, on a 60-acre piece of land on the old base.<br /><br />Hendrickson says, &quot;Castle is somewhat strategically located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. That was something i think they liked and also it’s a bit removed.&quot;<br /><br />Removed from the bright lights and crowds of the Bay Area, as it fine tunes highly confidential projects, like the self-driving car.&nbsp;The driver-less cars are being tested and developed on a makeshift track behind a covered fence.<br /><br />After googling Google, we contacted the company trying to get a tour inside of the facility and the self-driving car. Our requests were denied.<br /><br />Although the fence that houses Google’s projects is covered in a thick, dark mesh, there were a couple of openings inside of the tarp that we were able to peak into, where we spotted a self-driving car driving the course.<br /><br />We were also led to some vantage points the public often uses to watch the excitement, the top of a staircase of old military housing. From there, we could see over the fence and had a better view of the self-driving cars. An entire testing course has been constructed, complete with streets, stop lights and stop signs. Cars were whizzing around the tracks, very quickly, stopping and making turns.<br /><br />Castle RV Park resident and manager Ron Gardner says he can see the track and the cars clearly from his home. He watches the testing take place frequently.<br /><br />Gardner says, &quot;They had people actually walk out in front of the cars like they were crossing the street and the cars would stop automatically.&quot;<br /> <br />Google’s first lease led to a second one inside of a hanger on the Castle Air Field, where ‘Project Loon’ is underway. Massive balloons are being developed launched, in hopes of bringing balloon powered internet to everyone worldwide. At the same time, exposing the promise and opportunity present not just at Castle Airport, but in Atwater, Merced and all over the Central Valley.<br /><br />&quot;It’s already starting to produce new results positive results,&quot; says Hendrickson.<br /><br />The Central Valley is playing a role in projects aimed at changing the world.<br /><br />&quot;We’re very hopeful that when it’s all said and done and they’re successful with the venture, that someone will look back and say ‘Castle in Merced County had a very small part in their success.’ &quot;<p><font size="2"></font></p></div>

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