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Airborne Wind Energy Systems Company Acquired by Google

Airborne wind turbine prototype (Makani Power Inc.)

Airborne wind turbine prototype (Makani Power Inc.)

Makani Power Inc., a company in Alameda, California developing airborne wind energy systems that fly in the air like kites, was acquired by Google, according to the company’s Web site. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

The company says its wind energy system operates like a wind turbine, but is flown from 250 to 600 meters aloft, where winds are stronger and more consistent. The device is a flying wing, about the size of current wind turbine blades, with small rotor-powered generators mounted on the wing. The wing flies in a vertical circular path, with power generated by the device transferred to the ground through a cable made with high-strength fibers that also serves as the tether.

Makani Power is a seven-year old company, which had Google’s green-energy program as one if its early investors. The first five years of the company’s history were devoted to R&D, including support from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) to develop a 30 kW prototype of a utilty-scale device. Earlier this month, Makani flight-tested an autonomously-controlled version of the system, including lauch and retrieval; see video below.

The company is developing a 600 kW utility-scale version of the system, designed for off-shore wind farms. Makani says its systems eliminate 90 percent of the material used in conventional wind turbines, and can fly at higher altitudes, as well as off deeper waters than current wind turbines.

News of the acquisition was first reported yesterday by BusinessWeek. The magazine reports that Makani Power will officially be part of Google’s secretive research lab, known as Google X. That lab is also responsible for Google initiatives like Google Glass, the mobile-computers configured as eyeglasses, and self-driving cars.

The acquisition is probably a bittersweet moment for the Makani Power staff. In October 2012 Corwin Hardham, the company’s CEO and one of three co-founders, died unexpectedly of a heart condition at age 38. Hardham was both an engineer and kitesurfer, which probably helped inspire design of the system.

The following video tells about the system’s 3 May autonomous flight test.

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Hat tip: CNet

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