TREASURE ISLAND -- The mystery isn't officially solved, but there are increasing signs that Google may use its far-out fleet of oceangoing barges as some kind of high-tech floating showrooms for projects that come out of Google X, the top-secret division responsible for self-driving cars, Internet balloons and other wild ideas.

One of the division's most famous products is Glass, the wearable Internet gadget that's a pet project of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. And if a flotilla of seagoing demonstration venues sounds extreme, just remember that Brin first took the wraps off Glass by staging a spectacular parachute stunt over San Francisco last year, in which sky divers wearing the gadget landed on the roof of Moscone Center.

The mystery barges have become a hot topic for speculation in the tech industry. Google is still declining to comment, but San Francisco television station KPIX reported its sources are convinced the four-story structures atop the barges are designed to house luxurious, invitation-only showrooms for Google X products -- and "a party deck," to boot.

KPIX said one of its sources has been aboard the barge now docked at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Local officials, meanwhile, have told this newspaper that Google has inquired about eventually mooring the vessel at San Francisco's Fort Mason, although officials said they won't issue the necessary permits until Google provides more information.


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A second barge carrying a similar four-story structure, owned by the same shell company that owns the Treasure Island vessel, has been spotted at a port in Connecticut and later in Maine. While initial speculation focused on the possibility that Google might be building seafaring computer centers -- which seemed logical based on the fact Google obtained a patent for a floating data center in 2009 -- another clue has surfaced that the Mountain View-based search giant may have something else in mind.

A Connecticut newspaper reported this week that Coast Guard records show government inspectors met in July with shipbuilding contractors who were working on the East Coast barge. Among those participating in one conference call was a Google representative identified in Coast Guard documents as "Michael Tierney, Google Glass."

The Day, a newspaper based in New London, Conn., also reported: "The purpose of the vessel is not described in the documents, but they reveal a plan to operate the vessel in various ports, the first being New York Harbor."

Google has been ramping up efforts to promote Glass, which until now has been sold only to a limited audience of software developers and so-called "Glass Explorers" who entered a contest by telling Google how they would use the device.

But the company has announced plans to sell Glass on a wider scale in coming months. And at an initial price of $1,500, Google has sought to make the purchase a memorable experience.

Early buyers were invited to pick up their device at swanky offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York, where they were served champagne and snacks while getting a fitting and demonstration of the product.

"It was definitely a VIP treatment, kind of like an unveiling," said Jim Lyons, a Glass Explorer.

Some buyers were offered the option of taking a boat across San Francisco Bay to an undisclosed location, although Lyons said that was no longer an option when he picked up his device in August.

While the company that owns the barges has four vessels registered in its name, only two have been spotted with the distinctive, four-story structures on board.

Earlier this week, all was quiet on the pier where the first-known barge is moored. But a British newspaper, the Mail, said its reporter visited the site and saw signs that a third structure is being assembled, perhaps for installation on a now-empty barge that also sits along the pier.

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.