According to the New York Times, (About.com's parent company) Google has a secret skunkworks lab called Google X. That happens to also be the name of a failed Google labs project, but that only lasted a couple of days. According to the article, Google's super secret Google X lab is cooking up things like space elevators, robotics projects, and the infamous self-driving car.
The article cites dozens of off the record interviews, but the idea just sounds a lot like something Google would do. Google has been increasingly interested in consumer products, robotics, and space exploration. They've got insane amounts of money as a company, Google's founders love big ideas. The ideas listed in the article are mostly not that far-fetched. Some may be difficult, but they're not inconceivable.
This is an idea that's been around for a while, and it's a common staple in science fiction stories. Basically, you take a space station that orbits the earth at the same speed as the earth's rotation, so it's always in a fixed spot. Next, you connect that space station to the earth using a gigantic and really strong cable. You can then use that cable to pull objects and people to space without nearly as much energy expenditure as you'd need to launch rockets. You could use this for observation or as a launching pad for space missions.
It's a great idea for scientists, tourists, and astronauts. And the company that invents a working model could make a fortune in government contracts alone. That doesn't mean there's not a lot of money between idea and final project.
Last year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I saw nearly every appliance company come up with a variation of this. Fridges text you to tell you you're low on milk, washers tell you that your laundry is done, and ovens that let you look up recipes on the Internet. These haven't been huge consumer hits - yet, but they will be, and it's more likely than not that Google will be playing catch-up with this idea, just like they are with Android tablets. I'm surprised nobody has thought to market retrofitted "dumb" appliances with cheap Android tablets.
In fact, the entire idea of connected appliances was already announced at the Google developer conference, Google I/O. The framework is called Android@Home, and it allows smart communication between devices. What would be really cool and innovative is if Google also introduced the devices. I'd love to see what Google would do with an energy efficient washer or how they'd solve the problem with last year's crop of smart fridges - you have to scan in receipts or otherwise enter all the products you purchase. A truly smart fridge would just know what's in it.
Self Driving Cars
We already know this one exists, and they did a good job of keeping a lid on the project until they announced it, unlike the "Google Phone" rumors that circulated for years before they released Android. According to the Times article, the idea most likely to see consumer release soon is the driver-less car. They've certainly gained the most media attention, and Google may be looking for ways to manufacture them inside the US. My bet is they strike a deal with Tesla Motors or a similar company instead of going with one of the big automakers.
I think it's pretty obvious that Google does have a skunkworks lab that does robotics research. It's also obvious that they're not going to disclose intellectual property until they've filed a patent, but it's super fun to think of the crazy things Google could invent.