3 Cutting Edge Topics Google Just Started Funding

Google funds more than 200 academic research projects a year in computer science, engineering, and related fields. Always looking for the leading edge, the company just added three new, red hot areas of interest.

While Google has a huge internal R&D department, the tech giant has deep roots in academia, and has been running a grantmaking program for university faculty since 2005. The latest round announced 110 recipients, about 15 percent of the proposals they received, with each award up to $150,000.

Related: Google: Grants for Science Research

While there are 22 established areas of research they fund, Google is always hunting for the next world-changing technology. As such, the most recent call for proposals added three new, pretty cool fields of research:

Computational Neuroscience: This field studies how our brains and nervous systems process information. It melds work in neuroscience and psychology with disciplines like computer science and engineering to create models of how physical structures in our brains actually work, including the function of individual neurons, but also memory, learning, the senses, and ultimately, consciousness. 

One of the first two winners in this category is David Cox at Harvard, who studies how the brain learns and adapts to visual information. He compares how living brains learn to machine-learning algorithms in an effort to gain a better understanding of both how the brain works, and to eventually create machines that can understand visual information more like humans. You can probably imagine the perceived value this work would hold for Google. 

Physical Interaction with Devices: Specifically targeted toward the development of wearables like Google Glass, this category looks at how devices can expand our information-processing capabilities. 

Chris Harrison of Carnegie Mellon is one of the first grantees to win in this category. His lab does some dazzlingly futuristic work with device interfaces and their interaction with the human body. Past projects have included improving the kinds of gestures that can be used to operate smartwatches, and technology that projects touchscreen capability on to surfaces, including parts of the human body. 

Another grantee is Rajeevan Amirtharajah of UC Davis, whose research interests focus on developing electronic systems for wireless devices that are powered by ambient energy sources, such as solar or environmental vibrations. He’s an inventor with more than 20 U.S. patents.

Online Education at Scale: Another huge area of technology right now, in the vein of the Khan Academy and edX, this research involves how teachers interact with students at scale, adapting education based on data, and innovative assessment methods. 

Related: The Funders Pouring Money Into the Khan Academy

One of the first grantees in this category is Edward Gehringer of North Carolina State University, who works in computer-assisted peer assessment. His research aims to improve the quality of peer feedback, making it more digestible and reliable. For example, he’s interested in developing systems that can use peer review to provide automatic grades in large classes and MOOCs. Automated techniques could teach peers how to give better feedback, determine which peer reviewers are most reliable, and use multiple reviewers to create reliable scores. 

Google Faculty Research Awards are given out twice a year, with the next deadline on October 15. Learn more about the process at our IP profile, and the company’s research website