Google has developed a lighter than air material is says could ‘change how we interact with the sky,’ the boss of its secretive research division has revealed.
Astro Teller, the head of X, the search giant’s lab designed to work on ‘out there’ projects such as self driving cars, smart contact lenses and internet beaming balloons, revealed the still secret project in his latest TED talk, when he revealed the firm abandoned plans for a cargo airship.
‘As often happens, we may get a phoenix from the ashes of this project — the cargo project got us thinking about how we could make something lighter than air,’ he said in a version of his talk posted on Backchannel.
‘Now we’re investigating a new material that’s super strong but wants to float.
‘It could change how we interact with the sky, buildings, transportation, and more. Stay tuned!’
He also revealed the firm had developed, then killed off, a plan for a vertical farm growing lettuce and other crops.
‘Vertical farming uses 10 times less water and 100 times less land than conventional methods, and you can grow food close to where it’s consumed, so you don’t have to transport it long distances,’ he wrote.
‘We made progress on many of the issues like automated harvesting and efficient lighting but in the end we couldn’t get staple crops like grains and rice to grow this way, so we killed the project.
‘If someone comes up with a dwarf species of rice, let us know — because that might crack the puzzle!’
Teller, who also helped develop the self driving car, also revealed progress on a kite that could replace wind turbines.
‘Our Makani energy kite rises up from its perch by spinning up several propellers spread along its wing, pulling out a tether and drawing power up the tether as it rises.
‘Once the tether is all the way out, the kite goes into crosswind circles in the sky and now the propellers that lifted it up have become small flying wind turbines, and this sends electricity back down the tether.’
It comes as another Google X project, a balloon-powered high-speed Internet service known as ‘Project Loon’ began its first tests in Sri Lanka Monday ahead of a planned joint venture with Colombo, the country’s top IT official said.
One of three balloons that will be used in the trials entered Sri Lankan airspace Monday, the Information and Communication Technology Agency chief Muhunthan Canagey said.
‘The first balloon entered our airspace this morning. It was launched from South America,’ Canagey told AFP. ‘It is currently over southern Sri Lanka.’
He said a Google team was expected later this week to test flight controls, spectrum efficiency and other technical matters.
The government announced earlier this month it would take a 25 percent stake in a joint venture with Google to deliver a high-speed Internet service powered by helium-filled balloons.
Sri Lanka is not investing any capital, but will take the stake in return for allocating spectrum for the project.
A further 10 percent of the joint venture would be offered to existing telephone service providers on the island.
It promises to extend coverage and cheaper rates for data services.
Service providers will be able to access higher speeds and improve the quality of their existing service once the balloon project is up and running.
The balloons, once in the stratosphere, will be twice as high as commercial airliners and barely visible to the naked eye.
The balloons will have a lifespan of about 180 days, but can be recycled, according to Sri Lankan officials involved in the venture.
Official figures show there are 3.3 million mobile Internet connections and 630,000 fixed line Internet subscribers among Sri Lanka’s more than 20 million population.
Sri Lanka became the first country in South Asia to introduce mobile phones in 1989 and the first to roll out a 3G network in 2004.
It was also the first in the region to unveil a 4G network two years ago.