Tag Archives: area 120

Create 3D games with friends, no experience required

Let’s say you have an idea for a video game. It could be a first-person action game starring a snail on the (slow) run from the law, or a multiplayer game featuring only pugs. There’s only one problem: You’ve never built a game before. You don’t know how to program.You don’t know any 3D artists. And every tool you find won’t let you collaborate with friends.

What if creating games could be as easy and fun as playing them? What if you could enter a virtual world with your friends and build a game together in real time? Our team within Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects, took on this challenge. Our prototype is called Game Builder, and it is free on Steam for PC and Mac.

Built for gamers

Game Builder animation

Game Builder aims to make building a game feel like playing a game. If you’ve crafted a fort or dug a mine in a game, you already know how to build a 3D level in Game Builder.

Always-on multiplayer

Game Builder animation

Multiple users can build (or play) simultaneously. You can even have friends play the game as you work on it.

No code required

Game Builder animation

Bring your games to life with Game Builder’s card-based visual programming system. Drag and drop cards to “answer” questions, such as, “How do I move?” You can make moving platforms, scoreboards, healing potions, drivable cars and more.

Real-time JavaScript

Game Builder animation

You can build your own cards with Javascript. Game Builder comes with an extensive API that allows you to script almost everything in the game. All the code is live, so just make a change and save it, no compiling required.

Thousands of 3D models

Game Builder animation

From pugs to rocket ships, there are thousands of options available to craft your characters. Find 3D models on Google Poly and use them in your game instantly.

If you’ve ever wanted to build a video game, but didn’t know where to start, check out Game Builder on Steam. (And if you end up making that snail-on-the-run game, we can’t wait to play.)

Redefine reading practice with Rivet

Reading is one of the most important skills students will learn in their lives. After the third grade, students who have mastered reading use it to learn just about everything else. Struggling readers, on the other hand, are unlikely to catch up and four times less likely to graduate from high school. Unfortunately, 64 percent of fourth grade students in the United States perform below the proficient level in reading.

Rivet is a new reading app from Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects, that addresses the most common barriers to effective reading practice through a free, easy-to-use reading experience optimized for kids. Evidence shows that one of the major differences between poor and strong readers is the amount of time spent reading, so we're introducing Rivet to make high-quality reading practice available to all.

Improving access to books

With a rapidly growing digital library of over 2,000 free books, Rivet makes it easy to find interesting reading material at the right level. There are engaging books covering a wide array of topics, from planets in outer space to Harriet Tubman. Every book in our library is carefully reviewed and leveled by content quality experts to ensure young readers are shown appropriate content at the right level of difficulty.

A screenshot of the Rivet app, showing a library collection of books to choose from

A knowledgeable reading buddy

Rivet uses advanced speech technology to provide support on every word and give kids feedback on their reading, so they can practice independently without getting stuck. Here are a few Rivet features you can try out during reading practice:

  • Tap for Help: Stuck on a word? Just tap to hear it pronounced.
  • Say the Word: Kids can practice reading a word and the app will show them exactly which parts of the word were said correctly and which parts they need to work on.
  • Definitions and Translations: Definitions are available for every word, along with translations into more than 25 languages for non-native speakers.

A screenshot showing the Definitions and Translations feature in Rivet, showing the word "start" defined and pronounced on the screen.
  • Follow Along: Rivet can read full-pages aloud on a selection of books, highlighting each word as it’s read so kids can follow along. (Parents have the option to disable this feature.)
  • Real-time Feedback: On Android (and coming soon to iOS), Rivet can provide even more real-time help. Just tap the microphone icon and read the page aloud—the app will follow along and proactively offer support if it detects a reader struggling. At the end of the page, readers can see which words were read correctly, and try again on the words they missed. All speech processing is performed on-device to respect your child’s privacy.
A screenshot depicting the Real-time Feedback feature, where a paragraph is read out loud to the reader.

Motivation and encouragement

It takes hard work and plenty of patience to master reading. Rivet rewards dedication with points and badges, and personalizes the experience with avatars, themes and recommended books based on each reader’s level and interests. Surprises designed to encourage more practice, energizing games and a playful interface keep kids engaged in the reading experience.

A screenshot showing the "rewards" page after three days in a row of reading practice, with a cat in sunglasses and the words, "Yay! You did it! You've read 3 days in Rivet!"

Our goal is to deliver high-quality reading practice to children everywhere, along with peace of mind for the busy parents accompanying them on their reading journey. In the upcoming months, we’ll introduce features to support reading practice in classrooms, add new content for a wider range of reading levels and expand to more countries around the world.

Rivet is now available on Android smartphones, tablets, iPads, iPhones and Chromebooks in eleven countries worldwide. If you know a little reader who could benefit from better reading practice, check us out in the Play Store or App Store today.

Helping small business phones get smart with CallJoy

Think about how many times you’ve called a small business lately. I call local businesses near my home and office all the time—just last weekend, I was on the phone with the nearest exotic pet store to see if they had food in stock for our family's pet lizard.

My team within Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects, conducted testing and found that small businesses receive an average of 13 phone calls every day. If you apply that average to America's 30.2 million small businesses, that would equal roughly 400 million incoming daily calls to local businesses from consumers placing a to-go order, booking an appointment, inquiring about inventory and more. That’s why we built CallJoy, a cloud-based phone agent that enables small business owners to measure, improve and automate customer service.

Meet CallJoy

With CallJoy, small businesses have access to the same customer service options that have historically only been available to larger corporations. If you’re associated with small business using CallJoy, here’s how it works: After a quick setup, you’ll receive a local phone number. CallJoy will immediately begin blocking unwanted spam calls so you receive the calls that matter—the ones from customers. Then, when the phone rings, the automated CallJoy agent answers, greets callers with a custom message and provides basic business information (like hours of operation).

If the customer calling would like to complete a task which can be done online, like place a to-go order or book an appointment, CallJoy’s virtual agent will send the customer an SMS text message containing a URL. Whether the customer speaks with you, talks to an employee, or just interacts directly with the CallJoy agent, the call will be recorded and transcribed for quality purposes. This allows small business owners to tag and search each conversation based on topic. For example, a hair salon owner can search how many times a day callers ask about “men’s haircut pricing” or “wedding hairstyles.” From here, CallJoy compiles your data in an online dashboard and emails you a daily update, which includes metrics like call volume and new versus returning callers.

Untie the phone line, improve customer service, grow sales

High call volume can overwhelm any small business, especially when coupled with peak call times and the ever-increasing monsoon of spam callers. In fact, nearly half of small business calls go unanswered because owners are just too busy or assume the caller is another spammer. When that happens, business owners can experience customer disloyalty, loss of revenue and negative online reviews.

Take for example one of the top Chinese fusion takeout eateries in Austin, Texas. Before joining CallJoy’s beta program, the restaurant staff didn’t have the bandwidth to answer incoming calls while juggling food preparation and in-restaurant diner needs. Since adding CallJoy’s textback feature, the restaurant has decreased hold times and increased productivity by automatically texting callers a URL to place their orders online.

CallJoy helps small business owners offer better customer service, make more informed business decisions and ultimately increase productivity. Starting today, small business owners can sign up for early access to this phone technology by clicking here, and for a flat monthly fee of $39. 

Touring Bird takes flight in 200 destinations worldwide

From booking flights to securing hotel rooms, the online travel industry has made the logistics side of travel easier than ever. But the fun part of taking a trip is experiencing and exploring new places, cultures and people—that's the part travelers remember and talk about. Yet finding exciting things to do in a given location is often much more difficult than finding a cheap flight. There are many sources of information, and not all of them are reliable, which means that hours of research can still come up short.

With Touring Bird, a web-based travel app from Google’sArea 120 (a workshop for experimental projects), you can explore, compare and book over 75,000 tours and activities from top providers. Touring Bird is expanding from the initial 20 destinations launched in September 2018 to 200 total destinations, available on desktop and mobile. Our coverage now spans the world, from Anchorage to Zanzibar.

Everything in one place

When you select a destination city in Touring Bird, you'll see top sights,, suggested tours and activities with prices, options for free guided tours, and recommendations from locals and travel experts.

A screenshot scrolling through the top sights, local tours and activities, and local tips in Touring Bird.

Customizable, one-stop shopping

We offer a “build-your-own package” feature for each destination’s top attractions. For example, if you want to explore Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Família church with a guide, visit the church’s towers and also see Gaudí’s whimsical Park Güell, you can find the tour package that meets those criteria. You’ll find offerings from multiple major providers (such as Expedia, GetYourGuide and Viator) without having to comb through endless tour descriptions on each booking agency’s website to determine what’s included or not.

A screenshot showing the flow of creating a package of tours for Barcelona.

The travel experience you want

We also curate hundreds of activities for every interest and type of traveler, whether you’re first-timers looking for iconic experiences in Zurich, travelers seeking more off-the-beaten-path activities in Athens, or families with kids on holiday in Dubai. All offerings can be further filtered by the type of activity that interests you, such as walking tours, classes or performances.

Quick and easy booking

Once you find a tour, ticket or activity that interests you, you can dig deeper and see what’s included—plus availability, prices, cancellation policies and reviews. Then you can filter by your trip dates and, when you’re ready, click straight to the provider’s website to complete the booking.

A variety of Barcelona tours and activities available in the Touring Bird app.

One-of-a-kind experiences

Local Tips arecurated recommendations for unexpected local experiences provided by destination experts. For those looking for something beyond classic guided tours, Touring Bird offers has got you covered. Watch sumo wrestlers train in Tokyo, camp by the beach with wild kangaroos near Sydney or explore the world’s largest historical toilet collection in Kyiv.

A screenshot of local tips in the Touring Bird app.

After today's update, if you’re planning on traveling somewhere, chances are Touring Bird has it covered. Check it out at www.touringbird.com when you're getting ready to plan your next trip.

Kormo, an app helping young job seekers find work, launches in Jakarta

I recently traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia, where I met with job seekers just starting their careers. Repeatedly, they shared that finding entry-level and part-time jobs is confusing and difficult, especially when you don’t have much in the way of work experience, professional contacts or resources. To help young Indonesians connect with employers, learn new skills and build their careers, we’re bringing the Kormo app to Jakarta. 

kormo team in jakarta

Speaking to young job seekers in Jakarta who had just spent the day at the mall going from shop to shop to drop off their CVs.

Kormo is one of many projects incubated inside of Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects. Initially launched in Dhaka—the capital city of Bangladesh and one of the most densely populated cities in the world—Kormo has matched people with more than 25,000 jobs, including retail sales, delivery and contact center positions. Our time in Dhaka and Jakarta taught us a lot about the needs of young job seekers and employers in markets where rapid urbanization and growth are impacting labor markets.

Making career-building easy and assistive

Kormojakarta

A group of university students in Dhaka, creating their digital CVs on Kormo

Job seekers told us that they weren’t sure what jobs were available to them, as listings typically travel by word-of-mouth or aren’t posted online. And though many of these seekers pay someone to create a paper CV (or résumé), their busy schedules and traffic congestion in the city makes it inconvenient to drop hard copies in employer CV boxes. Even after they apply, many seekers never hear back on the status of their candidacy.

Kormo lets anyone to build a digital CV quickly, and for free. The digital CV updates dynamically as job seekers find work or enroll in trainings through the Kormo app. Kormo will also display open job listings in the city—the job opportunities listed will reflect the job seeker’s growing profiles and skills. Meanwhile, we partner with employers, ranging from large corporates to small or medium enterprises, to include their jobs in Kormo’s marketplace and enable seekers to apply directly from our app.

Kormo job list

Providing access to skills training

As the job markets evolve in Bangladesh and Indonesia, employers are looking for candidates with new skill sets, including proficiency with new technologies. While training resources exist both online and offline, job seekers told us that they weren’t sure about whether a specific program could help them get a job. Plus, many of the programs that offer formal certificates cost money and require time commitments that can be hard to sustain.

kormo video training

Skills development expert and Kormo partner, Don Sumdany, creating localized videos to help people who use Kormo ace their next interview.

Within the Kormo app, we built a Learn tab where seekers can access relevant, up-to-date and free training content in the form of videos, articles and courses based on individual interests.

Kormo101training

While learning from job seekers in Dhaka, we met Abida, a college student beginning her career in the city. Kormo recently matched her to her first job at a well-known retail store, and she now has the financial stability she needs to continue her education. We hope to see many more stories like Abida’s emerge now that Kormo is available in another city.

Abida

Abida, a college student  in Dhaka, at her new job that she found through Kormo.

With Kormo, our ultimate goal is to provide economic opportunity and mobility to more people in countries like Bangladesh or Indonesia. If you live in one of these countries, you can download the Kormo app for free from the Google Play store. For businesses looking to hire through Kormo, please sign up from our site.

Helping companies improve their customer support with Chatbase

Virtual Agent: Hi there, and thank you for contacting Some Wireless Company. How can I help you today?

You: My phone stopped working, so I’d like to replace it with a new one.

Virtual Agent: It sounds like you’re trying to activate a new phone, is that right?

You: Well, I need a replacement first. But eventually, sure.

[Three minutes later...]

Virtual Agent: Thank you. I’ll connect you with Sales, so they can set up your new account.

You:Wait, what? I already have an account. I just need a replacement ph—!

Different Virtual Agent: Hi there, and thank you for your interest in Some Wireless Company…

In a given year, it’s estimated that people in the U.S. spend more than 900 million hours on hold—navigating menus with their keypads and voices, or just waiting for answers to their questions. And the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

Part of the challenge is that many companies build their answering systems the same way they did 30 years ago—with gut feelings and guesswork. While this may work for basic questions like "What's my account balance?”, it quickly breaks down for more complex customer needs. We're building Chatbase because we’re convinced there's a better way.

Chatbase is a project in Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental efforts, and we recently launched a new offering that helps businesses improve their automated voice and chat systems. By analyzing a company's agent-customer transcripts, Chatbase can now help design virtual agents that are more helpful and versatile, and even improve over time. And yes, they know that sometimes you still want to speak with someone.

chatbase cluster

A visualization of how Chatbase analyzes agent-customer transcripts, and categorizes the types of support customers ask for.

By helping companies deliver great support experiences, Chatbase can help you get more of your time back. So here’s to fewer phone call-induced headaches, and having a few extra moments for yourself. (And if you’re a business that’d like to work with us, then please check us out over here.)

New year, new skills: learn how to code with Grasshopper in 2019

It's the first week of January, and the ink is barely dry on those New Year’s resolutions you wrote down. Often, resolutions involve learning a new skill, so while you're in the mood to try something new, what about learning to code?

Grasshopper teaches adults to learn to code through fun puzzles and quizzes. It’s just one of the many projects built within Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects. Over 1.6 million people have downloaded Grasshopper, and as we’ve been hearing more feedback on the app, we’re sharing three reasons you should try it out in 2019.

Anyone can learn to code

You might want to learn to code, but don't know where to start or worry it might be too difficult. Over the last nine months, Grasshopper has helped stay-at-home moms, mid-career changers and international entrepreneurs kick-start new careers and get an edge before pursuing advanced coding courses. In fact, over 100,000 people around the world have graduated from our Fundamentals course, which covers the basics of introductory computer science.

We’ve also run a number of academic studies on the effectiveness of Grasshopper, and found two insights: after two weeks of use, students are more motivated to learn to code. And while women tend to start off their Grasshopper journey feeling a bit more unsure about learning to code, we see that confidence gap between men and women decrease by 18%.

There are no mistakes in learning to code

What causes some people to succeed at learning to code, while others struggle? The answer we found was surprising: the best Grasshopper students make the most attempts to solve puzzles, getting more things “wrong” in the process.

Grasshopper French flag

Each Grasshopper puzzle presents a coding challenge, guiding you toward understanding a new concept through real-time feedback on each attempt. Students who graduate from Grasshopper have on average 4.4 more incorrect attempts in a puzzle per coding session than our non-graduating students. This actually makes sense: the best professional software engineers also make many small changes to code while trying to solve a problem, so that they can test their code for issues along the way. So, our best students don't get things “wrong.” They're actually taking lots of mini steps to move toward a solution, the same way professional software engineers do!

You can learn to code anytime, anywhere

We designed Grasshopper to be on mobile, so you can learn whenever you have time—the coding puzzles only take five to ten minutes each. Whether you’re waiting in line, unwinding on the couch or on a lunch break, Grasshopper turns a spare moment into an opportunity to learn an essential job skill. 

As you’re thinking about those resolutions for the new year, consider adding learning to code to your list. Grasshopper is available in English on iOS and Android.

Experimenting with VR Ad formats at Area 120

Posted by Aayush Upadhyay and Neel Rao, Area 120

At Area 120, Google's internal workshop for experimental ideas, we're working on early-stage projects and quickly iterate to test concepts. We heard from developers that they're looking at how to make money to fund their VR applications, so we started experimenting with what a native, mobile VR ad format might look like.

Developers and users have told us they want to avoid disruptive, hard-to-implement ad experiences in VR. So our first idea for a potential format presents a cube to users, with the option to engage with it and then see a video ad. By tapping on the cube or gazing at it for a few seconds, the cube opens a video player where the user can watch, and then easily close, the video. Here's how it works:

Our work focuses on a few key principles - VR ad formats should be easy for developers to implement, native to VR, flexible enough to customize, and useful and non-intrusive for users. Our Area 120 team has seen some encouraging results with a few test partners, and would love to work with the developer community as this work evolves - across Cardboard (on Android and iOS), Daydream and Samsung Gear VR.

If you're a VR developer (or want to be one) and are interested in testing this format with us, please fill out this form to apply for our early access program. We have an early-stage SDK available and you can get up and running easily. We're excited to continue experimenting with this format and hope you'll join us for the ride!