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Google The Internet

Google is Killing Its Solar-Powered Internet Drone Program (businessinsider.com) 59

An anonymous reader writes: Google's "moonshot" X division is ending its Titan drone program, which planned to use solar-powered drones to beam internet down to earth. Google bought Titan Aerospace in 2014. The company was developing solar-powered drones that could fly for several days at a time and take images of earth or beam down internet. When Google reorganized into Alphabet in 2015, Titan was folded into X, the Alphabet division that focuses on wild tech projects in hopes of stumbling on the next big thing.

Google is Killing Its Solar-Powered Internet Drone Program

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I guess they finally figured out that it was one thing to build a solar plane that could stay aloft for a while, and entirely different thing to add the weight and power usage of networking or other equipment.

    • Re:took a while; (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Wednesday January 11, 2017 @02:14PM (#53649427)

      Actually, building a solar airplane that can stay aloft as long as their business model demands, is a significant challenge. Reliability of servo actuators and electric motors is a major issue. Designing a structure light enough to minimize the power required to climb to very high altitudes, but robust enough to survive winds/gusts during ascent and descent, is a major issue.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Also cleaning. Real aircraft are cleaned regularly. When you have an aircraft (of any type) that stays aloft for a year at a time, how do you clean it?

        Cleaning is important because it keeps the airfoil surfaces aerodynamically sound. Even birds groom themselves to stay in good shape, it's a matter of survival for them.

        • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday January 11, 2017 @02:48PM (#53649645)

          Cleaning is important because it keeps the airfoil surfaces aerodynamically sound. Even birds groom themselves to stay in good shape

          So the answer is obvious - we bio-engineer birds that clean themselves - but ALSO clean the drones!

          Or we develop a drone with a tongue, basically go with whichever idea can get grants or Google pay money.

          • So the answer is obvious - we bio-engineer birds that clean themselves - but ALSO clean the drones!

            You are missing the obvious - we bio-engineer birds that clean themselves - but ALSO can deliver Internet to the ground!

            • Two African swallows can carry a Wifi transmitter between them using a bit of string.
              • by Stele ( 9443 )

                Hell, even a lousy pair of European swallows could manage one of those wifi transmitters if it were small enough!

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's simpler than that: you just need to look up the typical windspeeds at the altitudes it would be cruising at (over 60m/s for much of the year). If you then work out the energy density required for overnight operation with achievable lift to drag (def less than 50, even for a stupidly long flying wing), you get a decent velocity of over 1.2m/s. This equates to an energy density of 12hours*9.8*0.6=510KJ/Kg, so even with state of the art lithium cells over 60% of the mass has to be batteries. If you assume

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) on Wednesday January 11, 2017 @02:17PM (#53649443)

    Google just finally recognized it.

    • Google just finally recognized it.

      I never understood the solar powered drones for internet access. Solar powered drones only make sense if you need to move large distances over many days. That's not what you need for internet access.

      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) on Wednesday January 11, 2017 @02:44PM (#53649617)

        Yes, good old balloons make much more sense if you just need to get up high and stay there. The whole "solar drones" thing reeks of a hype project combining two trendy technologies that are way inferior to a non-trendy, old-fashioned solution.

        • Yes, good old balloons make much more sense if you just need to get up high and stay there.

          I bet good old fashioned communications satellites make even more sense. Despite being expensive to deploy, the cost per person covered is probably drastically less expensive than balloons.

          • I would have to see some data on that. High altitude weather balloons can hit an altitude of 20+ miles but a 20 mile tether doesn't sound practical although that would have a nice coverage area.

            • by tsqr ( 808554 )

              a 20 mile tether doesn't sound practical

              It's not just impractical; it's downright dangerous [aopa.org], even with much shorter lengths. If tether breaks at the ground end, interesting [af.mil] things [arstechnica.com] can happen. [time.com]

              • The military has been using tethered balloons for radar and communications for years the dangers are well known tow of those articles blamed operational procedures. I'm guessing that a satellite would weather a storm better but I'm not so certain it would be cheaper.

                • by tsqr ( 808554 )

                  Satellites are prohibitively expensive, and are not a great solution for Internet connectivity because of very high latency, as anyone who has ever used Hughes Net can attest. Tethered balloons are a poor solution because they're vulnerable to inclement weather, and if you deploy them in sufficient numbers to provide decent coverage, the tethers become hazards to aircraft.

                  Untethered airships with station-keeping capability would be much better, if you can load them up with enough batteries to station-keep a

                  • Then forget tethering and go for a powered blimp. It would have the ability to do station keeping and wouldn't need to trade altitude for power and it would probably cost less than a fixed wing aircraft. Either way a fixed wing aircraft and a powered blimp will both be effected by weather.

        • by tsqr ( 808554 )

          Yes, good old balloons make much more sense if you just need to get up high and stay there.

          If by "stay there" you mean, "stay at high altitude", yes. If you mean "stay at a fixed location relative to the Earth's surface", then not so much. Station keeping is difficult and expensive with good old balloons unless they're tethered, and tethering is not practical at stratospheric altitudes.

          • You think a solar powered, long loiter airplane would have the speed to fight the jetsteam? Solar powered planes will have the same problem.

            Yes they might work outside the jetstream, but it moves.

            • by tsqr ( 808554 )

              You think a solar powered, long loiter airplane would have the speed to fight the jetsteam? Solar powered planes will have the same problem.

              Yes they might work outside the jetstream, but it moves.

              A high altitude, long endurance aircraft would fly at nearly twice jetstream altitude, so the jetstream would not pose a problem for station-keeping. There isn't much wind at 55,000 to 65,000 feet. The problem, as I pointed out in an earlier post, is getting the airplane though the weather on ascent or descent. The structural robustness required to achieve that tends to make the airplane too heavy to climb to stratospheric altitudes. There are interesting experiments being done involving very flexible wings

              • There isn't much air at 55kft ether. I don't presume to know the flight envelope for an entire class of yet unbuilt airplanes.

                Consider the difference in power required for transmitters depending on altitude.

                Also: Google for 'jetstream altitude' returns 8 to 15 km. 15km is about 50,000 feet (using the 3 meters is about 10ft shortcut).

                • by tsqr ( 808554 )

                  There isn't much air at 55kft ether. I don't presume to know the flight envelope for an entire class of yet unbuilt airplanes.

                  Stratospheric flight at altitudes above 60kft using solar powered fixed wing aircraft was achieved quite a few years ago. You might find this [wikipedia.org] informative. Still, long endurance remains a daunting challenge.

                  • Because it's possible, doesn't mean that routine operations will happen at that altitude. Like I say: 'entire class of yet unbuilt airplanes'.

                    And nobody has started to address the electric power requirements a hotspot at 60 kft would have. At a 25 mph cruise speed, the wing loading is very low. It's possible the plane will work, just not with a useful payload. Without even looking at power issues, finding a place for directional antenna's on that plane will be challenge, depending on what band they run

      • Google just finally recognized it.

        I never understood the solar powered drones for internet access. Solar powered drones only make sense if you need to move large distances over many days. That's not what you need for internet access.

        Drones also make sense if you want to stay roughly stationary at high altitude over many days, which would be very nice for providing Internet access. Google's other approach, using balloons, has the problem that unless you tether the balloons to the ground you basically have to let them follow the wind. That means you need enough balloons to provide complete coverage, so that as one balloon floats out of range, another one comes into range. Even if you have enough balloons to provide that level of coverage

    • I know people who were working on it out here in NM. Simple explanation- it crashed.
  • What gets me is that they have given up on Google Fiber. If Google can't make that work, how can anyone? Something is very wrong, and I suspect it is over regulation and corporate collusion with prior players (AT&T and Verizon). That doesn't bode well for the future of the Internet.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Maybe the MBAs have won and there's just too many finance and number people at Google, and Sergey and Larry have lost the enthusiasm and social cohesion with the smart post-docs with wild ideas that might just work if you threw money at them.

      Maybe with fiber they also figured that 5G was close enough and would end up actually competing with wireline "broadband" enough that whatever pressure value Google Fiber would offer wasn't worth the future investment.

  • Google/Alphabet seems to have a soft spot for hot air, mostly hype pie in the ski projects that were common in the 80s. Boston Dynamics was a survivor of that era and Google bought their story at the tune of 1 billion dollars only to have to turn around and sell it at a loss.

    Their merger and acquisitions department is in sore need of a few more skeptical minds.

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