Google has acquired an innovative wind power generator company, Makani Power, bringing the team into the same Google X “moonshot” lab responsible for Glass and Google’s self-driving cars. Makani Power, which Google had already been partly funding as part of the Google.org “Renewable Energy cheaper than Coal” (RE<C) initiative, puts its generator turbines not on the ground, but on fixed-wing aircraft tethered to the ground but sent up to soar in stronger, more consistent airflow at high-altitude or above deeper water.
The acquisition comes a week after Mankani Power’s first fully-autonomous test flight, with an Airborne Wind Turbine taking off, hovering, generating power, then hovering again before landing safely. The tethered wing flies in large circles, and uses around 90-percent less material than a traditional turbine.
Mankani Power fully-autonomous test flight:
Google began investing in Mankani Power back in 2007, part of a broader R&D project aiming to develop ways of producing power more cheaply than traditional coal-fueled methods. The Mankani Power approach has culminated in Wing 7, which can produce 30kW of power as well as autonomously switching between generation and standby modes.
Take-off involves the AWT being reeled out from the base station “perch”, and then hovering before flying in crosswind. If the wind gets too weak or strong, or the AWT needs maintenance, it can automatically be transitioned back to crosswind hover mode, and then winched back home.
Mankani Power technology demonstration:
“This formalizes a long and productive relationship between our two companies, and will provide Makani with the resources to accelerate our work to make wind energy cost competitive with fossil fuels” Mankani Power said in a statement. “Makani could not have reached this point without the support of the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program and the hard work of our talented team, past and present. We look forward to working with our new colleagues at Google[x] to make airborne wind a cost-effective reality.”
Google’s mysterious X labs is the company’s more outlandish thinktank, separate from the mainstream work the rest of the company does on search, Android, and other more immediately commercialized products. The team has also been tipped to be working on autonomous robotic explorers, which could use self-driving car technology with the same kind of Street View photography equipment as used in Google Maps to more comprehensively document the world.