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Google will fly a crazy, plane-like, 84-foot wind turbine next month

Google will fly a crazy, plane-like, 84-foot wind turbine next month


Astro Teller tells the crowd at SXSW that the 28-foot versions didn't crash

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Google plans to fly an 84-foot wind turbine next month, according to Google X's Astro Teller, who spoke at SXSW today.

Google's wind turbines don't look like the ones you might see along the US coastline. They're more like "planes" equipped with eight propellers that are tethered to a docking station. When they're released, they get up to 450 meters in the air. At that altitude, the plane starts doing large circles in the sky, which turns the plane's propellers. The drag turns each of the eight propellers into individual turbines that send 600 kilowatts back down to Earth.

Google has been working on wind turbines for some time now, thanks in part to its purchase of the energy company Makani Power in 2013. But the turbines it has flown so far measured 28 feet in length. The one that Google plans to fly next month will measure 84 feet, Teller said, which means it might be equipped with additional propellers.

"if you're not breaking your experimental equipment... you could be learning faster."

Astro Teller told the crowd today that the company has flown the smaller versions in the harshest of wind environments. "Larry Page said to me, 'make sure you crash at least five of those test versions,'" Teller said. "What he meant was... if you're not breaking your experimental equipment, at least some of the time, you could be learning faster. And I know he's right."

To test the turbines, the team went to one of the windiest places in North American — Pigeon Point in Pescadero, California. The speed of the wind can change by 20 miles per hour in a second, and the direction of the wind can change by 90 degrees in a second, Teller said. But the turbines didn't crash. "We failed to fail. We didn't crash, not once."