Google’s Quiet, Multimillion Dollar Academic Research Program

Google draws constant attention for the big ideas coming out of its campuses, and for the occasional huge chunk of funding it unleashes on a cause. But there’s a quiet, steady stream of research funding pouring out of the Googleplex. 

While things like the company’s recent initiative to get girls coding and the occasional million-dollar prize tend to grab the spotlight when it comes to Google giving, the company’s R&D program has been giving out millions since 2005, albeit in small chunks. Google just announced its latest grant winners, and while they average around $50,000 and max out at $150,000, just this one round will fund 110 projects. 

Related: Where Is Google's Big Money for Girls Coding Headed?

The Google Research Awards go toward high-level faculty projects that overlap with Google’s areas of interest. They are all related to computer science, engineering, or related fields covering 22 eligible topics, with popular areas including human-computer interaction, mobile, and machine perception. 

There are two rounds a year, and just estimating based on the median individual grant amount Google cites, we’re talking somewhere around $5 million in one round. As you can imagine, it’s competitive, but maybe not as much as you’d guess, with about 15 percent of proposals selected for funding

Winners tend to be extremely technical projects from top caliber scientists and institutions, and Google is open to out-of-the-box projects, even those not quite fitting in the 22 categories. Applicants have something of an edge if they have an established connection to Google researchers, or if a Googler has expressed interest in their work (each winner is given a Google “sponsor” to act as liaison for the project).  

Related: What's Google Up To With Its New $1 Million Prize?

Also note that the grant program introduced three new areas of study this year: computational neuroscience, physical interactions with devices, and online learning at scale, so they tend to adapt to what's happening in emerging tech.

You can see the full list of winners from the August 2014 round here, but a couple of highlights are: 

  • Dania Bilal of University of Tennesse at Knoxville won an award for her study of how children read, and how accessible Google search results are for them. 
  • Carlos Caicedo of Syracuse won a grant to pursue his work at helping companies better manage the wireless radio spectrum, by developing standard ways for them to coexist without conflict. 
  • Chris Harrison of Carnegie Mellon University is one of the first researchers to win in the physical interactions category. His team works on interface technologies, including wearable technology and touch interface. He’s done work with smartwatches, as well as touch interfaces projected onto the body.

Check out the guidelines and such over at the company website. You may have heard of it: Google.