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Wisconsin Cheese Mart makes a comeback—online and on the block

Category: Google | Jan 22, 2018

In 2003, Wisconsin Cheese Mart was up for sale and in danger of closing. When Ken McNulty, an Air Force veteran and native Wisconsinite, heard the news, he and his family decided to take a big risk. They purchased the small shop, which has been a Milwaukee cornerstone since 1938, and set out to revitalize it.

At the time, only a fraction of sales were online. After investing in their online presence, Wisconsin Cheese Mart now generates over 75 percent of its business through online sales and provides cheese lovers across the United States with the largest selection of Wisconsin cheese in the world.

Watch the video above to learn more about how Wisconsin Cheese Mart collaborates with local farmers and factories, and connects with customers on the web.


Making France’s digital potential work for everyone

Category: Google | Jan 22, 2018

When people think of “digital champions,” it’s natural to think of a highly trained computer scientist creating new technology.  There are many other kinds of digital champions, however. They can be small business owners accelerating their growth online or people finding better ways to do their jobs. To do this, people now need to easily learn digital skills throughout their lives.  

That’s important for countries as well as individuals. According to the European Commission, France ranks just 16th in the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index. Yet France has all the assets to succeed. It has top engineers, great entrepreneurs, one of the best education systems in the world, great infrastructure, and successful global companies. Studies suggest that if France fully seized its digital potential, it could earn up to 10 percent of GDP from digital technology by 2025, creating 200-250 billion euros’ worth of additional value per year.

Achieving this will take significant digital transformation for both France’s citizens and its businesses. With the right approach and infrastructure, that transformation doesn’t need to be hard. Over the last three years, we’ve trained more than 3 million Europeans in digital skills. In France alone, more than 230,000 French students and professionals have attended digital-skills training sessions given by our teams and partners. We now want to do more.  

Grow with Google in France—“Les Ateliers Numériques Google”

We will open four local Google Hubs called “Les Ateliers Numériques” across France, run by a network of local partners from the digital sector. These physical spaces will provide a long-term Google presence in French cities, with a dedicated team setting up free trainings in online skills and digital literacy. With our partners, we intend to help people find better jobs, keep their families safe online, and develop their businesses or careers.  Brittany will be our pilot region, with the opening of a Google Hub in Rennes during first half of 2018; three other hubs will follow. This will bring the best digital training within easy reach of more than 100,000 people every year.

A new research center dedicated to AI

France has produced some truly heroic figures of science—like Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, Blaise Pascal and Sophie Germain—and its educational system still produces amazing researchers. So it’s only natural that we set up a new research team in Google France around the age’s defining technology: artificial intelligence. Our new research team will work closely with the AI research community in France on issues like health, science, art and the environment. They will publish their research and open-source the code they  produce, so that everyone can use these insights to solve their own problems, in their own way.

Oh, and we’re going to need a bigger office, too.

To keep pace with this digital growth, we need to expand our presence in France. We announced recently that our staff in France will increase by 50 percent, bringing our total workforce to more than 1,000 Googlers. Our offices will also grow by 6,000 m2, via new buildings connected to our office today.

More than ever, we’re committed to help France find new ways to grow in this digital era—whether through helping people retrain, or growing a business, or using amazing talent to research and build new products for the world. We hope these new investments will help the country, academia and local businesses turn France into a true digital champion.


Augmented reality on the web, for everyone

Category: Google | Jan 22, 2018

In the next few months, there will be hundreds of millions of Android and iOS devices that are able to provide augmented reality experiences – meaning you’ll be able to look at the world through your phone, and place digital objects wherever you look. To help bring this to as many users as possible, we’ve been exploring how to bring augmented reality to the web platform, so someday anyone with a browser can access this new technology. In this post, we’ll take a look at a recent prototype we built to explore how AR content could work across the web, from today’s mobile and desktop browsers, to future AR-enabled browsers. Techies, take note: the last section of the post focuses on technical details, so stick around if you want to dig deeper.

How the prototype works

Article is a 3D model viewer that works for all browsers. On desktop, users can check out a 3D model—in this case a space suit—by dragging to rotate, or scrolling to zoom. On mobile the experience is similar: users touch and drag to rotate the model, or drag with two fingers to zoom in.


The desktop model viewing experience

To help convey that the model is 3D and interactive—and not just a static image—the model rotates slightly in response to the user scrolling.


With augmented reality, the model comes alive. The unique power of AR is to blend digital content with the real world. So we can, for example, surf the web, find a model, place it in our room to see just how large it truly is, and physically walk around it.

When Article is loaded on an AR-capable device and browser, an AR button appears in the bottom right. Tapping on it activates the device camera, and renders a reticle on the ground in front of the user. When the user taps the screen, the model sprouts from the reticle, fixed to the ground and rendered at its physical size. The user can walk around the object and get a sense of scale and immediacy that images and video alone cannot convey.


Article’s AR interface as viewed on an AR-capable tablet

To reposition the model, users can tap-and-drag, or drag with two fingers to rotate it. Subtle features such as shadows and even lighting help to blend the model with its surroundings.


Moving and rotating the model

Small touches make it easy to learn how to use AR. User testing has taught us that clear interface cues are key to helping users learn how AR works. For example, while the user waits momentarily for the system to identify a surface that the model can be placed upon, a circle appears on the floor, tilting with the movement of the device. This helps introduce the concept of an AR interface, with digital objects that intersect with the physical environment (also known as diagetic UI).


Diagetic activity indicators hint at the AR nature of the experience

Under the hood (and on to the technical stuff!)

We built our responsive model viewer with Three.js. Three.js makes the low-level power of WebGL more accessible to developers, and it has a large community of examples, documentation and Stack Overflow answers to help ease learning curves.

To ensure smooth interactions and animations, we finessed factors that contribute to performance:

  • Using a low polygon-count model;

  • Carefully controlling the number of lights in the scene;

  • Decreasing shadow resolution when on mobile devices;

  • Rendering the emulator UI (discussed below) using shaders that utilize signed distance functions to render their effects at infinite resolution in an efficient manner.

To accelerate iteration times, we created a desktop AR emulator that enables us to test UX changes on desktop Chrome. This makes previewing changes nearly instant. Before the emulator, each change—no matter how minor—had to be loaded onto a connected mobile device, taking upwards of 10 seconds for each build-push-reload cycle. With the emulator we can instead preview these tweaks on desktop almost instantly, and then push to device only when needed.

The emulator is built on a desktop AR polyfill and Three.js. If one line of code (which include the polyfill), is uncommented in the index.js file , it instantiates a gray grid environment and adds keyboard and mouse controls as substitutes for physically moving in the real world. The emulator is included in the Article project repo.


The spacesuit model was sourced from Poly. Many Poly models are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Generic (CC-BY), which lets users copy and/or remix them, so long as the creator is credited. Our astronaut was created by the Poly team.

Article’s 2D sections were built with off-the-shelf libraries and modern web tooling. For responsive layout and typography and overall theme, we used Bootstrap, which makes it easy for developers to create great looking sites that adapt responsively across device screen sizes. As an nod to the aesthetics of Wikipedia and Medium, we went with Bootswatch’s Paper theme. For managing dependencies, classes, and build steps we used NPM, ES6, Babel and Webpack.

Looking ahead

There’s vast potential for AR on the web—it could be used in shopping, education, entertainment, and more. Article is just one in a series of prototypes, and there’s so much left to explore—from using light estimation to more seamlessly blend 3D objects with the real world, to adding diegetic UI annotations to specific positions on the model. Mobile AR on the web is incredibly fun right now because there’s a lot to be discovered. If you’d like learn more about our experimental browsers and get started creating your own prototypes, please visit our devsite.


Searches up: Beach Boy gets the grade and other trends from this week

Category: Google | Jan 19, 2018

Wouldn’t It Be Nice to get an A? Don’t Worry Baby, you’ll always have a chance to change that F.

That’s what Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys did this week when he went back to his high school for extra credit, turning an “F” he received in songwriting into an “A” …  58 years later later. A wave of searches about Wilson’s academic endeavors ensued: “Brian Wilson grade change,” “Brian Wilson back to school,” and “Where did Beach Boy Brian Wilson attend high school?” People are curious about where other well-known figures went to school as well. The most searched famous people and “high school” are Donald Trump, Kylie Jenner, James Franco, Jennifer Aniston and Kim Kardashian.

Here’s a peek at a few other top searches from this week, with data from Google News Lab.

  • Ballistic missile threat in Hawaii: On the day of the accidental false alarm, search interest for “fallout shelters” in Hawaii increased by nearly 10,000 percent. 
  • Counting down to the Winter Olympics: Searches for Katie Couric were 900 percent higher than her co-host Mike Tirico, and as of this week, the top-searched Olympic sports are ice hockey, snowboarding and figure skating. 
  • Shaking things up in Michigan: An unusual earthquake in Michigan turned out to be caused by a meteor. Searches for “meteor” were on a streak—in fact, they were 30 times higher than “Michigan earthquake.”
  • When life gives you snow, make snow cream: A mixture of snow and a dairy-based liquid makes this winter sweet treat, and search interest is on the rise. In the U.S., searches for “how to make snow cream” were 290 percent higher than “how to make ice cream.”

That’s it for this week, God Only Knows what trends will emerge next week.


Looking beyond code to make the future work for everyone

Category: Google | Jan 19, 2018

It’s clear that people need more options to thrive in the digital world. The next generation of workers will depend on how we evolve education and tech in the coming years.

When you think of how to help our workforce thrive and find opportunities in the digital world, the first word that often comes to mind is “code.” Nearly every digital-skills program over the past decade has focused on computer science, with a lot of emphasis on young students. Coding, of course, is vital and a core skill for America to invest in. Google has focused resources and employee time helping people from all backgrounds to code—from helping introduce students to the basics, to offering 10,000 free Udacity courses in coding for apps, to training other businesses in how to become experts in programming artificial intelligence. All of this will help meet the growing need for workers who can write the software that will power everyone’s businesses. And it will help countless people more move into in-demand, high paying careers.

But the focus on code has left a potentially bigger opportunity largely unexplored. In the past, people were educated, and learned job skills, and that was enough for a lifetime. Now, with technology changing rapidly and new job areas emerging and transforming constantly, that’s no longer the case. We need to focus on making lightweight, continuous education widely available. This is just as crucial to making sure that everyone can find opportunities in the future workplace. 

There are two areas that are relevant here. The first is around basic digital skills training. An office admin, for example, now needs to use online programs to run budgets, scheduling, accounting and more. While digital technology should be empowering people, it can often alienate them from their own jobs.

Some of these skills didn’t exist five years ago, yet workers are today expected to have them. A recent report by the Brookings Institute says that jobs in the U.S. requiring “medium-digital” skills in America have grown from 40 percent of jobs in 2002 to 48 percent of jobs in 2016.

The digital skills necessary to do these jobs are far easier to learn than code, and should be easier to deliver at scale. For example, we rolled out a “Grow with Google” program, and partnered with Goodwill last year to incorporate digital skills training into its already amazing training infrastructure for job seekers. One trainee spoke of the value of her own experiences. “Before I learned digital skills, I felt unsure of myself,” she says. “Now I feel confident. You have to feel confident in what you do in order to be successful and move on in life.”

Through these trainings, people learn about using technology to research, to plan events, analyze data and more. They don’t require a formal degree or certificate. We think there’s great scope to expand this model, and teach hard and soft skills that can empower a workforce that has access to constant, accredited learning opportunities as job requirements change.

Second, we have a huge opportunity to rethink training for jobs that are core to the digital economy, but that don’t require coding. IT support is a clear opportunity, here. Just as anyone has a clear path to becoming an auto-mechanic, we need a similar path to the 150,000 open positions for IT support, in which people maintain the machines and software that underpin technology services. Yet no training today efficiently connects people to that opportunity. 

We learned this ourselves through an IT-support apprenticeship program we offered, with the Bay Area’s Year Up job-training program. Over 90 percent of the young adults met or exceed Google’s expectations as apprentices, but we noticed they didn’t return to apply for full-time jobs. It turned out that the standard, two-year computer science degree cost too much time and money, teaching skills that those former apprentices simply didn’t need to start their careers.

We should make sure that the next generation of jobs are good jobs, in every sense.

So we developed, and just announced, a new IT certificate program alongside Coursera that’s far more focused and flexible. We believe in just 8 to 12 months, it teaches everything you need to be an IT support technician. IT support jobs are predicted to grow by 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than most other occupations the government tracks. We’re giving 10,000 people free access to the course and will connect graduates to job opportunities at places like Bank of America, Walmart, Sprint, GE Digital, Infosys, TEKSystems, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—as well as Google. If the program works, the payoff will be substantial. The median annual wage for IT support is close to the median salary in America.

You can imagine this lightweight, focused model being applied to other tech-related jobs of the future: robust certification programs for project management, delivery fleet operation, and other jobs no one can imagine today, but that will be obvious—and ubiquitous—in five years’ time. 

Moving beyond code and intensive degrees to these constant, lightweight and ubiquitous forms of education will take resources and experimentation. But that effort should help close today’s skills gaps, while making sure future skills gaps don’t open. That’s part of the reason Google has invested $1 billion over five years to help find new approaches to connect people to opportunities at work and help small and medium businesses everywhere grow in the digital economy. We should make sure that the next generation of jobs are good jobs, in every sense. Rather than thinking of education as the opening act, we need to make sure it’s a constant, natural and simple act across life—with lightweight, flexible courses, skills and programs available to everyone.

This essay also appeared on NBC News Think.


Tea time with a touch of technology

Category: Google | Jan 18, 2018

Some of the world’s best tea is grown in the Darjeeling district of India, seen here against the backdrop of the Himalayas.

Editor’s Note: As part of our series of interviews with entrepreneurs across Asia Pacific who use the internet to grow, we spoke with Parvez Gupta, the co-founder of Udyan Tea in Siliguri, India, to find out how he uses technology to bring the best teas to tea lovers in India and beyond. 

After working for a multinational firm in Singapore, you returned home to start a business in India. Tell us about your motivations. 

I grew up in Siliguri, which is part of the Darjeeling district of West Bengal—where the world’s finest tea is grown. I love tea and I enjoyed savoring it from a young age. Being in Siliguri, I’m at the source of tea production, and I’ve been able to use the internet to bring fresher and better teas to people everywhere.

My father was also a huge inspiration. Growing up, I saw him build multiple businesses from the ground up and he inspired me to become an entrepreneur.

Parvez Gupta Udyan Tea

Udyan tea co-founder Parvez Gupta is passionate about sharing his Darjeeling tea culture with the rest of the country and the world.

Why tea and why Udyan?

My friend, Punit Poddar, and I started Udyan Tea in 2012. Punit is also deeply passionate about tea. He has been a tea taster for the past ten years and his family have been in the tea business for more than five decades. During our travels in India, we realized there was a severe lack of good quality tea in other parts of the country. As natives of Siliguri, we expect every cup of tea to be a great one. But we discovered that most good quality tea is exported to foreign markets.

We worked together to address the gap in the domestic market — too many firms catered to demand for fine teas abroad, but not at home. So Udyan Tea was born. Udyan means “garden” and that’s what we aim to provide, the finest tea from the garden to your cup. We select the best tea based on freshness, authenticity and quality. 

Punit Poddar Udyan

Udyan co-founder and tea taster Punit Poddar hails from a family that’s been in the tea business for more than 50 years.

How do you find that Google helps your business?

The internet has opened up an entire new base of consumers to businesses of every kind. Before the internet, you could only transact with local communities. Today, with e-commerce, the possibilities are limitless. We are primarily focused on the Indian market, and close to 80% of our revenue is driven from within the country.  We depend entirely on the internet for selling our products, and we rely heavily on Google search to generate traffic to our business.

AdWords has been indispensable for generating new leads for us. We also use Search, Analytics, and Google My Business. We’ve also used Translate tools to close deals with customers who do not speak English at all, which is quite amazing if you think about it. So far, we have shipped products to over 25 countries!

Can you tell us about how your business has helped your community? 

We purchase teas from a number of small growers on an ongoing basis. This helps them fetch the best prices for their teas by eliminating middlemen and contributes to their sustainability. We also serve as consultants to other tea businesses and cafes, meaning we help other companies succeed in the tea business as well!

Tea tasting Udyan

“Udyan [उद्यान] means garden in Hindi, and that’s what we represent,” explains Parvez Gupta, “tea fresh from the gardens”.


Using TensorFlow to keep farmers happy and cows healthy

Category: Google | Jan 18, 2018

Editor’s Note: TensorFlow, our open source machine learning library, is just that—open to anyone. Companies, nonprofits, researchers and developers have used TensorFlow in some pretty cool ways, and we’re sharing those stories here on Keyword. Today we hear from Yasir Khokhar and Saad Ansari, founders of Connecterra, who are applying machine learning to an unexpected field: dairy farming.

Connecterra means “connected earth.” We formed the company based on a simple thesis: if we could use technology to make sense of data from the natural world, then we could make a real impact in solving the pressing problems of our time.

It all started when Yasir moved to a farm in the Netherlands, near Amsterdam. We had both spent many years working in the technology industry, and realized that the dairy industry was a sector where technology could make a dramatic impact. For instance, we saw that the only difference between cows that produce 30 liters of milk a day and those that produce 10 liters was the animal’s health. We wondered—could technology make cows healthier, and in doing so, help farmers grow their businesses?

That thinking spurred us to start working weekends and evenings on what would eventually become Ida—a product that uses TensorFlow, Google’s machine learning framework, to understand and interpret the behavior of cows and give farmers insights about their herds’ health.

Ida learns patterns about a cow’s movements from a wearable sensor. We use this data to train machine learning models in TensorFlow, and ultimately, Ida can detect activities from eating, drinking, resting, fertility, temperature and more. It’s not just tracking this information, though. We use Ida to predict problems early, detecting cases like lameness or digestive disorders, and provide recommendations to farmers on how to keep their cows healthy and improve the efficiency of their farms. Using these insights, we’re already seeing a 30 percent increase in dairy production on our customers’ farms.

By 2050, the world will have 9 billion people, and we need a 60 percent increase in food production to feed them. Dairy farmer assistance is just one example of how AI could be used to help solve important issues like this. And at Connecterra, by using AI to create solutions to big problems, we think technology can make a real impact.


VMware puts its focus on Android enterprise

Category: Google | Jan 18, 2018

Over the last year, we’ve added a number of new features to Android’s modern management modes to enhance security and simplify deployment for IT admins.

Our partners—leaders in the enterprise mobility ecosystem—haven’t been standing still either. We love to support and recognize the great work they’re doing to help customers adopt Android’s latest capabilities.

For example, enterprise mobility management (EMM) partner VMware recently announced it’s shifting the default deployment model in the next major release of the VMware AirWatch console to Android enterprise. Customers that use AirWatch to manage their organization’s Android devices will benefit from our modern APIs that support the work profile and device owner mode.

As VMware notes on its blog, admins can trust the work profile to keep company data separate and secure on employees’ devices. Team members can turn off work apps for those times they want some work-life balance, while also gaining the assurance their personal data remains private. For companies that deploy their own devices, VMware and other partners support our strong and flexible tools for management.

We’re excited to see partners like VMware help customers embrace the latest Android has to offer. For those interested, VMware has released a walkthrough guide, which is available in VMware TestDrive, that’s a good place for customers to get started.

VMware’s transition to Android enterprise is a great example of how one of our partners is embracing the modern APIs and latest capabilities of our secure and flexible platform. We’re looking forward to seeing further innovations from our partners that will accelerate what businesses can accomplish with enterprise mobility.


Huawei to integrate Android Messages across their Android smartphone portfolio

Category: Google | Jan 17, 2018

Over the coming months, Huawei will make it even easier for hundreds of millions of people to express themselves via mobile messaging by integrating Android Messages, powered by RCS, across their Android smartphone portfolio.

With Android Messages and RCS messaging, Huawei devices will now offer a richer native messaging and communications experience. Features such as texting over Wi-Fi, rich media sharing, group chats, and typing indicators will now be a default part of the device. Messages from businesses will also be upgraded on Huawei’s devices through RCS business messaging. And Huawei users will be able to make video calls directly from Android Messages through carrier ViLTE and Google Duo.

In addition, to help carriers accelerate deployment of RCS messaging across their networks, we’re collaborating with Huawei to offer the Jibe RCS cloud and hub solution to current and prospective carrier partners, as part of an integrated solution with Huawei’s current infrastructure. This will enable a faster process for RCS services so more subscribers can get access to RCS messaging.

Huawei will begin integrating Android Messages across their portfolio in the coming months. For more information, see the following release.


The She Word: going behind hardware design with Ivy Ross

Category: Google | Jan 17, 2018

Editor’s Note: The She Word is a Keyword series all about powerful, dynamic and creative women at Google. Intrigued by the unique aesthetic of Google’s new family of hardware devices released in October, we sat down with the woman who leads the design team: Ivy Ross. In the interview below, she shares with us how she approaches design at work, and life outside of work.


How do you explain your job at a dinner party?

I lead a team that creates how a Google product—including Google Home, the Pixel laptop and wearables—looks, feels and acts when you hold it in your hands.

What advice would you give to women starting out in their careers?

Be fearless in using your heart and mind in what you do, and bring more beauty into the world.

Who has been a strong female influence in your life?

My daughter. Seeing the world through her eyes at various stages of her life has given me a “beginner’s mind” in much of what I do.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I’ve always wanted to be a designer/maker. My dad, who had a big influence on me, was an industrial designer and built the house I grew up in—the house was so ahead of its time that Andy Warhol used it to shoot a movie back in the late 70’s.

When I was 12 years old, I made a dress out of chain mail metal and wore it to a bar mitzvah. I linked together thousands of metal squares that made up the dress, designed a necklace that attached to the dress, and made a purse out of the chain mail to match. Even back then, I was designing for efficiency! Instead of bringing needle and thread in case the dress ripped, I carried a screwdriver.

ivy dress.jpg

Ivy in her homemade dress (screwdriver not pictured).

What is one habit that makes you successful?

Trusting my instincts on both people and ideas.

How is designing hardware different than designing software?

Unlike software, you can’t fix hardware through a new release or update. You need more time up front because once something is tooled, you can make very few adjustments.

What is the most important design principle for Google’s hardware?

Human. By that I mean friendly, emotionally-appealing and easy to fit into your life and your home. I believe more time we spend in front of flat screens, the more we’ll crave soft and tactile three-dimensional shapes. This is reflected in the fabric in Home Mini, Home Max and Daydream View, the texture of Pixel phones and Pixel Books, and the soft silicon pad where you rest your wrist while typing on the PixelBook.

  • Shot_4_0168_FPO1 (1).jpg
    Color swatches for Google Home Mini
  • DesignStory_Phone_Table_T_034_FPO1_retouched (1).jpg
    Iterations of Pixel 2
  • DesignStory_Phone_Cases_T_073_FPO1_SIMP_retouched (1).jpg
    Testing fabrics for Pixel cases
  • DesignStory_Eve_Table_T_030_FPO1_SIMP_retouched (1).jpg
    Iterations of Pixelbook and Pixelbook Pen
  • img7.jpg
    Designing the new Daydream View

Are there any design innovations you’re especially proud of in this year’s hardware lineup?

The way we used fabric for Home Mini was not an easy path. It required special construction to accomplish the simplicity of the form with great acoustics. Some of the things that look the simplest can actually be the hardest to construct! I’m proud that we created a beautiful group of products without sacrificing their function.

I’m proud that we created a beautiful group of products without sacrificing their function.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I don’t spend much time looking at other electronics beyond what I need to understand about the market. You can’t create anything new by only looking within your own category so I draw inspiration from art, materials, furniture, music, nature and people. My dad taught how to look at something and see more than what appears on the surface.

You’re also a jewelry designer with big accomplishments at a young age. What did you learn from that?

Having gotten my work in museums around the world by age 25, I realized that life is not about the end goal, it’s about the journey and the adventure along the way with others.