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Google acquires Gecko Design for next-generation products

Gecko's designers will join Google X, which works on new products like Glass

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Google has acquired Gecko Design, which will become part of the Internet company's unit developing cutting-edge products like Glass and balloons for Internet access.

Terms of the deal, announced Friday, were not disclosed. Gecko President Jacques Gagne and its four other employees will join Google's "X" research division next month. In addition to Glass and Internet balloons, other projects at Google X include self-driving cars and contact lenses for measuring blood glucose levels.

Google CEO Larry Page has referred to these sorts of projects as "big bets" or "moon shots."

Gecko, founded in 1996 and based in Los Gatos, California, could help Google in the physical design of these products as Google expands beyond software. Products designed with Gecko's services include the wearable Fitbit activity tracker, Hewlett-Packard computer towers and laptops, and low-cost computers for third world countries from the One Laptop per Child project.

Gecko's Gagne would not say in an interview which Google X projects specifically the team would be working on. But his firm has been working with Google on one X project since last year, he said. Acquisition talks with Google began late last year, he said.

At Google X, Gecko's focus will remain on product development and mechanical engineering, he said. "For engineers, this is a playground," he said, referring to Google X.

Google has already brought in outside help to try to make Glass a mainstream product and shed its geeky image. In May the company hired Ivy Ross , a designer and former Calvin Klein and Gap executive. Google has also partnered with the Luxottica Group, the Italian company that owns Ray-Ban, Oakley and other brands, to help design and manufacture Glass frames.

But looks aren't the only thing Glass needs to succeed. The unit's photo and video recording capabilities have raised privacy concerns, and the question remains whether enough people will feel the need for a head-mounted computer to make it a success. There's also the hefty price tag -- the current beta version of Glass costs US$1,500.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com



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