Google acquires wind-turbine start-up Makani Power

24 May 2013

Makani's airborne wind turbine. Image via Makani Power

Google is to acquire Makani Power, a US company that is developing an airborne wind turbine that is mounted on a tethered wing and can fly to higher altitudes where the wind is stronger. The company will become part of Google X – the search giant’s secretive research lab.

Google has already invested US$15m in Makani, which was founded in 2006 and is based in Alameda, California.

Rather than using fixed wind turbines, Makani is pioneering a new type of wind turbine that is attached to an autonomous wing, which is tethered to the ground. Air moving across the turbine blades forces them to rotate, driving a generator to produce electricity.

Earlier this month, the company carried out the first ever fully autonomous flight of its kite-type power system.

The tethered wing can fly between 250m and 600m in the air, where the winds are stronger.

Makani is testing a 30kW prototype of the product but is planning to develop a 600kW version. The company believes its technology will be able to produce power at up to half the cost of traditional wind turbines.

On its website, Makani said the Google acquisition would provide it with the resources to accelerate its development.

“The timing couldn’t be better, as we completed the first ever autonomous all-modes flight with our Wing 7 prototype last week,” the post said.

Google confirmed the acquisition in the following statement from Astro Teller, the director of Google X: “Makani Power’s technology has opened the door to a radical new approach to wind energy. They’ve turned a technology that today involves hundreds of tons of steel and precious open space into a problem that can be solved with really intelligent software. We’re looking forward to bringing them into Google[x].”

The Google X facility in California is already home to projects such as Google’s self-driving car and the augmented reality eyewear Google Glass.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic