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Google Power

Google Acquires Kite-Power Generator 125

Posted by samzenpus
from the blowing-in-the-wind dept.
garymortimer writes "Google has acquired a US company that generates power using turbines mounted on tethered kites or wings. Makani Power will become part of Google X – the secretive research and development arm of the search giant. The deal comes as Makani carries out the first fully autonomous flights of robot kites bearing its power-generating propellers. Google has not said how much it paid to acquire Makani, but it has invested $15m (£9.9m) in the company previously."
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Google Acquires Kite-Power Generator

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  • Makes perfect sense (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jmulvey (233344) on Sunday May 26, 2013 @11:00AM (#43827335)

    Join this power-generating capability with Google's recent initiative to provide internet access to sub-Sarahan Africa via blimp: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-05/26/google-blimps [wired.co.uk] ...and you've got a robust, uninterruptable combination for internet access in the poorest, and the most corrupt nations in the world. Under such circumstances, Google will have great communicative and, perhaps most interestingly, surveillance power over the people under these oppressive governments. It should be interesting how such absolute power, so closely aligned with government interests, affects Google's behavior.

    Of course, it could be that Google simply feels these citizens represent a huge market for targeted advertisements for tablet PCs and Lexus vehicles.

    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      Sergey Brin grew up in Russia. He's not a big fan of oppressive governments.

      • If he doesn't like government looking up everybody's ass, it doesn't show in Google policy. Or maybe it's ok if it's done by a non-government organization.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) *

        Sergey Brin grew up in Russia. He's not a big fan of oppressive governments.

        He lived in Russia till he was six. That is hardly "grown up". As a six year old, your only interaction with the government is your kindergarten teacher.

        • by Nerdfest (867930)

          ... and what is done to your parents.

          • by Max_W (812974)
            His parents graduated the Moscow State University. It is the best university of the former Soviet Union.

            They paid for the education zero, as it was a custom at that time.

            Not that the USSR was a fun place, but nevertheless it was not a bad education.
      • Right. Oppression should be privatised!
    • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday May 26, 2013 @03:23PM (#43828415) Homepage Journal

      Of course, it could be that Google simply feels these citizens represent a huge market for targeted advertisements for tablet PCs and Lexus vehicles.

      Or it could be that Google believes that everyone in the world should have access to information, with all of the benefits it brings, and is looking for ways to make that possible, in sustainable, self-funding ways.

      Nah, couldn't be. We all know corporations are utterly incapable of doing anything beneficial for humanity.

  • even if it didn't generate any electricity.

  • by iggymanz (596061)

    you could put your turbine on a fixed pole, so it doesn't come down when the wind stops blowing.

    • The wind is stronger at heights your pole can't reach.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        You haven't seen my pole.

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        this craft doesn't operate at those heights, just 40-100 meters. the wind is the same as for turbine on a pole

    • by gaelfx (1111115)

      Asked and answered. [makanipower.com]

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      But when the wind stops blowing there's no more reason for the kite to stay up, so why is it a problem if it comes down?

      • Re:or (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tibit (1762298) on Sunday May 26, 2013 @02:10PM (#43828157)

        Their way of doing stuff shouldn't be called a kite. What they have is a tethered airplane, not a kite. They started with a kite-based approach and dropped it. Their flying wing can hover under its own power, for example. Look at their videos [youtube.com]. It's pretty damn impressive top-notch engineering. I'd probably hire any of their engineers sight unseen, except that the projects I work on may not be as exciting after you've worked on a flying wing wind energy harvester.

        • Their flying wing can hover under its own power, for example.

          Emphasis mine - it only goes into powered flight when it has to. At other times it seems to act just like a kite.

          • by tibit (1762298)

            An airplane on a tether is not a kite.

            • by Trogre (513942)

              It is if it remains in the air after the engine is switched off.

              • by tibit (1762298)

                Oh, I get it, you think that towed gliders are kites. Well, might as well call an unborn mammal tethered with the umbilical a kite too, then.

                On another thought, though, that would make the pro-life vs. pro-choice debates even more hysterical.

                (Must be that I invoked The Son of Godwin, or something.)

                • Oh, I get it, you think that towed gliders are kites.

                  Why do you think they're not?

                  Well, might as well call an unborn mammal tethered with the umbilical a kite too, then.

                  They don't get aloft so well.

                • by Trogre (513942)

                  Oh, I get it, you think that towed gliders are kites.

                  Well of course. Don't you? Assuming of course you mean towed gliders that never leave their tethers. But then they're not really gliding, are they?

                  Well, might as well call an unborn mammal tethered with the umbilical a kite too, then.

                  Ummmm, okaaay.... o_O

        • by MrEricSir (398214)

          What they have is a tethered airplane, not a kite.

          If I understand their website correctly, it takes off and lands like a VTOL, but once it's in the air it acts primarily as a glider. If needed the turbine/engines can be used to propel it like an airplane for short periods.

          So it's not exactly a kite, it's more of a mashup between a helicopter, a glider, and an airplane.

    • Re:or (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday May 26, 2013 @12:46PM (#43827861)

      you could put your turbine on a fixed pole, so it doesn't come down when the wind stops blowing.

      A length of string is much cheaper than a pole.
      Go up high enough, and the wind never stops.
      Wind power goes up as the cube of the velocity, so the stronger winds at high altitude are a big win.

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        this thing doesn't operate "high enough" nor at "high altitude", a mere hundred meters up the wind will stop blowing.

    • by tibit (1762298)

      If you actually went right to the source [makanipower.com], you wouldn't be repeating tired old silliness. For your edification: in a standard wind turbine, the outermost part of the propeller blade is generating most of the energy. The rest is essentially dead weight. Makani's approach cuts the weight by roughly an order of magnitude. They can also operate in slower winds, and they can operate higher when the wind is faster and more stable. Never mind that their tethered airplane automatically copes with wind gusts - the ta

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        you are the one all starry-eyed and making up silliness between your ears. This craft only operates at a hundred meters, far too low to make any claim about wind being "faster and more stable". This craft is mostly wing, dead weight the same as most of your ground based turbines. they claim twice the power of same sized turbine, a marketing claim for now.

        • by tibit (1762298)

          I don't even know where to start. The altitude it operates at is adjustable, by, um, changing the length of the tether, and that's obviously an insurmountable obstacle to the likes of you.

          What they have so far is a 30kW proof-of-concept. As you hopefully realize, there aren't any 30kW turbines atop of dedicated 100m tall poles, because such poles cost way too much to be worth it for a small 30kW turbine! So they have clearly demonstrated that it's feasible even for a startup to do such a thing. Thanks for b

  • by Flozzin (626330)
    I really don't see how you can generate enough power to keep the aircraft in the air, and have extra power to spare and send back to the ground. A kite, ok, maybe. But they say this flying wing flies in circles. So it stays aloft and generates power. How high can it actually go anyway? It still is dragging a cord back to the ground. Every foot higher is another foot of cord it has to support. I would think it would be much simplier to create a modified wind turbine that can come down safely when the wind
    • by gaelfx (1111115)

      Sounds like [makanipower.com] the wing itself is modeled after a turbine blade, so the wind is simultaneously holding it up and causing it to generate power. From the pictures, the thing looks pretty small (not much longer than the truck in the same pic) and it's presumably really light, depending on what materials they're using to construct them. My guess is carbon fiber, but I'm no engineer.

      • by gaelfx (1111115)

        Well, a few clicks confirms [makanipower.com] that suspicion. No word on weight, but I think the scale of the thing says it all, really.

      • by Flozzin (626330)
        Thanks guys. After posting I found their website and answered some of the questions I posed. I still have questions about viablity though. It is a kite as opposed to a plane, which I was imaging before.
    • by gaelfx (1111115)

      Ok, here [makanipower.com] is the actual answer to your question. Sorry about the other posts.

    • by Xenolith0 (808358)
      Now with video goodness http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9icw1oocUto [youtube.com]
    • by tibit (1762298)

      You can't see that because you didn't bother educating yourself, that's why. It's a problem with you, not their technology (unless you implied that). Aerodynamically what they are doing is absolutely no different than taking a big three-bladed classical turbine and only leaving the outermost segment of one of the blades. The rest of the dead weight is replaced as follows: the turbine in the nacelle by smaller high-speed turbines on the wing, the propeller is replaced by the control system that keeps it flyi

  • This sounds interesting, but is anyone familiar with plans or devices that do the same thing, except in the 10 to 100 Watt range that you could carry in, or strapped to, a backpack?

  • In this brief talk, Saul Griffith unveils the invention his new company Makani Power has been working on: giant kite turbines that create surprising amounts of clean, renewable energy. [ted.com]
  • They have been doing demos at small scale, but to really pay out big it needs to be done at much larger scale - as the line drag becomes a smaller and smaller loss the bigger you go and the wind stronger the higher they get. Given that most of their challenges are control system related solving them in small scale means the scale up should be far less risky (flying kites is really really hard compared to aircraft etc due to dominating and unknowable future variance of wind speed and direction)

    And if you lo

  • by F34nor (321515) on Sunday May 26, 2013 @12:03PM (#43827643)

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1248068.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    It is old ass news but the concept is correct. The jet stream is better than the surface. Don't worry about commercial airlines they run 10k feet lower.

    • by jfengel (409917)

      But they will need to be aware of your tethers. Probably best used away from other air traffic.

    • by Trogre (513942)

      Don't worry about commercial airlines they run 10k feet lower. ... straight into the strings?

    • by drewm1980 (902779)

      Makan's system will not fly anywhere near jetstream altitude. They will be low enough that the current plan is to regulate them like a structure. To reinforce the "we are like a radio tower" argument, they will even blink at light on the plane at the top and bottom of their power generating loop, so they will even look like a radio tower at night. Another company has a concept for harnessing even higher altitude winds using a huge quadcopter, but they are nowhere near as close to commercialization as Makan

    • by Herve5 (879674)

      Indeed, by going higher you tap in the jet stream energy, i. e. a place where winds are over 50 mph all the time over occidental countries.
      But, there is a simple reason why your british guy is 'old ass news': he didn't succeed, because a 20 Km tether is just too heavy to hold from a plane, full stop.

      Or not.

      The solution exists, but it's not his: you'll fly, eternally, tapping jet stream energy, by assembling TWO aircrafts linked by a much shorter tether, one staying IN the jet stream, the other BELOW it, i.

  • Makani Power will become part of Google X – the secretive research and development arm of the search giant

    Google X is Sergei's play thing. Maybe he has an inferiority complex from taking second place in a science fair, or it's just that billionaire's can afford cool hobbies. I know I'm being a wet blanket, but this seems very tenuously related to anything Google is involved in. I think it's fascinating tech, but I'm skeptical that Google X is a real industrial research lab as opposed to a cool hobby and a good way to get more of what Google thrives on: hype.

    • by tlambert (566799)

      Makani Power will become part of Google X – the secretive research and development arm of the search giant

      Google X is Sergei's play thing. Maybe he has an inferiority complex from taking second place in a science fair, or it's just that billionaire's can afford cool hobbies. I know I'm being a wet blanket, but this seems very tenuously related to anything Google is involved in. I think it's fascinating tech, but I'm skeptical that Google X is a real industrial research lab as opposed to a cool hobby and a good way to get more of what Google thrives on: hype.

      If you were ridiculously wealthy, what would you spend your money on?

      I like the idea that he's spending his on advancing technology. I'd probably be aimed more at biotech and nanotechnology - about the only realistic chances to buy yourself a longer life expectancy, which would let you spend even more money on cool stuff - than wind generators, but I like that he's spending on wearable computing and space elevators and fuel cells.

      If he wanted to solve the power issues, he'd be probably better off working

      • I like the idea that he's spending his on advancing technology.

        I love the idea of advancing tech, and it costs lots of money. Many worse uses for that money. What I'm skeptical of is that Google X is much more than a way to generate hype (which Google and Silicon Valley in general thrives on) and/or Sergei being a dilettante. The endless announcements of seriously not-ready-for-prime-time stuff seem more like a way of generating hype, as serious projects are more kept under wraps. And many of the things they work on seem "cool" more than part of any coherent business s

        • by tlambert (566799)

          I like the idea that he's spending his on advancing technology.

          I love the idea of advancing tech, and it costs lots of money. Many worse uses for that money. What I'm skeptical of is that Google X is much more than a way to generate hype (which Google and Silicon Valley in general thrives on) and/or Sergei being a dilettante. The endless announcements of seriously not-ready-for-prime-time stuff seem more like a way of generating hype, as serious projects are more kept under wraps. And many of the things they work on seem "cool" more than part of any coherent business strategy or research approach.

          I think that Sergei is in the same situation as Elon Musk, in that he really doesn't have to give a damn about whether or not he's spending on something that makes up part of a coherent whole, rather than an individual new business, and he really doesn't have to give a damn about whether or not it's going to make a viable self-sustaining business in 5 years or 10 years.

          He has enough money to take the long view.

          Technically, governments also have enough money to take the long view, but other than specific one

      • Well, I doubt if even Sergei is wealthy enough to commercialize a new fission technology given the tremendous obstacles.

        Perhaps a consortium of the super rich could do it. It's too long-term a project for a corporation.

        Otherwise it will take a government. Unfortunately ours is so dysfunctional that it isn't likely.

        Maybe when it becomes obvious that these diffuse renewables are not going to provide the growth that is needed for the human race to get to the next level we will see the investment take place.

        • by tlambert (566799)

          Well, I doubt if even Sergei is wealthy enough to commercialize a new fission technology given the tremendous obstacles.

          Fission technology is similar to the situation on patents in rocket technology, like linear aerospike engines, and the other patents which keep someone from rolling out a DC-X style spacecraft in the next couple of years: these things only matter if you do the work in the US or an allied country.

          There's practically nothing to prevent Sergei from spending his money outside the US rather than inside, in order to work around issues like this. International borders are relatively porous to money, particularly

      • by swillden (191260)

        If he wanted to solve the power issues, he'd be probably better off working on Thorium reactors than wind generation, given that one of the Diablo Canyon reactors puts out more energy than if all the windmills in California were simultaneously operating at 100% capacity, but for all I know he's building one somewhere, or there are anti-nuclear regulatory issues standing in the way.

        Or maybe he's bought into the anti-nuclear hype. Sergei's a bright guy but smart people can have blinders like anyone else. Still, having more solutions is better, so if Google X can make this into a viable wind power approach, I think it's great. Though I hope someone does the research on next generation reactors and fuels, because we'll need that, too.

  • Que the Benjamin Franklin posts in 3... 2... 1...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      People tend to get cue (signal something to start), and queue (put things in a line) mixed up. You have gone one further!
  • I read around ten years ago about another scheme involving kites. The kites would be louvred (for want of a better word) and the wind would act on them to unwind their tethers which were attached to dynamos. Once a kite reached the end of its tether, the louvres would be opened and the kite could be wound back in - using energy, but less than was generated in the unwinding. Or that was the theory, anyway.

    This seems a more elegant solution.

  • This might work at the scales presented but by the time the size goes up significantly the weight will be going up cubed and thus destroying the neat idea.

    This can not at all be extrapolated to economic scales.

The flow chart is a most thoroughly oversold piece of program documentation. -- Frederick Brooks, "The Mythical Man Month"

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