Makani, a moonshot project under Alphabet’s research firm X, is now an independent company. Fort Felker, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Makani, made this announcement in a blog post. Makani follows in the footsteps of other moonshot projects that Alphabet later spun off as independent companies, including Projects Wing and Project Loon.
Makani started as a moonshot project that focuses on developing energy kites, a drone connected to a floating buoy on the sea or to a ground station using a flexible material. The energy kites fly at a height of up to 250 meters above sea level and transform the force provided by the wind into electricity. To gather energy from the air more efficiently, the drone runs autonomously in loops. Wind will cause the rotors of the drone to turn, which generates electricity that the energy kite transmits first to the buoy or the ground station and then to the electric grid. Makani estimates that its solution can produce as much as 600 kilowatts of energy, and on its website, the company suggests that its technology could power as much as 300 homes.
Using energy kites have several advantages over more traditional solutions. For example, energy kites are 90-percent lighter than products with similar goals, which results in reduced construction cost. This characteristic of Makani’s solution also allows the company to roll out its product in areas where traditional technologies cannot be deployed easily, which include offshore locations with depths greater than 50 meters.
Within the last few years, Makani has developed a commercial-scale prototype, although the company is still improving its technology through further research and partnerships. In the same blog post, Makani announced its partnership with the oil and gas company Shell. The European company will provide Makani with the necessary technologies and expertise in developing floating structures. The two firms are currently working on a new floating system in Norway, which Makani expects to become operational in the latter part of the year. The new company also said that its current focus is on refining its product in preparation for commercial production and use and that it will continue its trials in its testing site in Hawaii.
As Makani becomes an independent business, its direction now moves from simply developing a working version of its technology to making a profit from its product. However, the company itself admits that it may take some time before its energy solution becomes commercially available, and Makani aims to set up more partnerships to further refine its product. Since Makani is now an independent company, X will likely distribute the resources formerly allocated with its operations to other moonshot projects.
X supports several projects related to the development of renewable energy solutions. Aside from Makani, several researchers from Alphabet’s moonshot research division is working on Malta, a technology that could efficiently store the electricity generated by solar and wind power plants, which should help reduce the need for more predictable sources of energy like coal and natural gas. If Alphabet succeeds in developing an efficient power generation setup that uses renewable energy, it will allow the tech giant to grab a share of the rapidly growing renewable power industry.