Google: Barges may be used as interactive learning centers

Portland, Maine - It took four weeks for Internet giant Google to respond, but on Wednesday the California-based company acknowledged for the first time that it has an interest in the mystery barge that has been docked in Portland Harbor since mid-October.

Google ended weeks of speculation on Wednesday by announcing that the structures on barges in Portland and San Francisco may be used as floating learning centers.

The company said it may use the Portland barge and the structure on it, along with a similar looking barge in San Francisco Bay, as interactive learning centers.

In a statement issued Wednesday to the Portland Press Herald, Google did not elaborate on what an interactive learning center would entail. But CNN Tech, quoting an affiliate station in San Fransisco, said the barge would house a floating showroom for the company's Google Glass connected eyewear and other products.

KPIX-TV in San Francisco reported that the barges will be part of a small fleet of luxury event spaces, complete with party decks, designed to be disassembled and transported by barge or train to other locations.

Google's Press Team e-mailed the Portland Press Herald a brief and somewhat whimsical statement in an effort to explain the barge's purpose.

The statement does not provide details on what an interactive learning center would be, and the press team did not respond to an email seeking additional information on how long the barge would be in Portland, where it would be taken afterward, and why the learning center is being built on a barge.

"Google Barge ... A floating data center? A wild party boat? A barge housing the last remaining dinosaur? Sadly, none of the above," Google's Press Team said. "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."

Speculation about the purpose of the barges had focused largely on Google's patented plans to build floating data centers, which would use ocean water to cool massive computer servers used to store and process data.

The four-story structure was assembled this past year on a barge that had been docked in New London, Conn. Both units were built of 40-foot-long shipping containers.

Tugboats towed the barge last month from New London to Rickers Wharf on Portland's waterfront, a facility owned by Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp. Cianbro has been hired to install undisclosed technological equipment in the structure.

Contacted Wednesday, Cianbro President and Chief Executive Officer Peter Vigue repeated what he has said in past interviews about the barge, "I am not at liberty to respond to your questions, or to discuss the barge in any way."

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

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.

U.S. Coast Guard inspectors who visited both 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 typically doesn't share proprietary information it sees during inspections.

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

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city has not to his knowledge been contacted by Google about operating an interactive learning center on the city's waterfront. "This is the first I've heard of it," Brennan said Wednesday.

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