Google caused a sea-crazed frenzy when the press discovered mystery barges floating off both US coasts. But the company dismantled the giant showrooms before their public unveiling over pesky public safety regulations: Google had no good answer when authorities asked if their retail barges were floating fire hazards.
Emails obtained by the Journal indicate that Google had low expectations for their buoyant
boutique—the company told the Coast Guard that only 1,200 customers a day were expected to board the structure. But regulators were still concerned people would have to jump overboard in a fire.
"I am unaware of any measures you plan to use to actually limit the number of passengers," [the Coast Guard's Robert Gauvin] wrote in the [March 27, 2013] email about fire safety. He criticized the effort by Google and [construction contractor Foss Maritime] to seek quick approvals. "While I understand there is a sense of urgency, I am concerned that significant work has already been performed without full consent of the Coast Guard."
To obtain approval, Google went with the dependable method of dazzling officials. But unlike the easily-impressed politicians, seaside regulators were not swayed by Silicon Valley splendor. Emphasis added:
Google wooed government officials, including organizing field trips. "The good folks at Google want to give us a tour of the barge that is currently under construction (it's almost done) at Treasure Island," wrote Rich Hillis, executive director of the nonprofit Fort Mason Center to National Park Service managers on Aug. 19, 2013. "They can pick us up in a special Google speed boat."
But the fire-safety issue remained unresolved. "The vessel's design doesn't incorporate certain fire safety features typically required," the Coast Guard wrote to Foss on Aug. 22, adding "we cannot determine if evacuation of disabled persons has been considered."
The concerns about the barge's safety were raised in early 2013—months before CNET first discovered the "big and mysterious" structure parked off San Francisco's Treasure Island. Six days after media reports began swirling, the Coast Guard officials privately admitted to themselves that they screwed up agreeing to keep it secret.
Despite the project being both literally and figuratively dead in the water, Google kept pretending their seaborne Android showrooms would become a reality. Finally, this past August, the company gave up and sold their Maine-based barge for scrap.