Did you hear about Google's acquisition of a company that makes a 26-foot-long electricity-generating kite this week? As part of its Google X anything-goes research and development arm that would make Tony Stark jealous, Google snatched up Makani Power, the maker of the kite.
If you think turbine kites sound like a strange investment for Google that's just the tip of the bizarre iceberg. Over the years Google has invested via Google X, Google Ventures, and other philanthropic arms in everything from drones that hunt down wildlife poachers, space travel, to a human-powered monorail. Here is a quick look at some of Google's most far-out and ambitious investments that make Google Glass and its self-driving car program sound downright prosaic.
Bloomberg Businessweek's Brad Stone has an excellent article on Google's investment in Makani Power and Google X. Google bought the company for an undisclosed amount of money. According to Makani its Airborne Wind Turbine system is a tethered "wing" that has light-weight turbines attached to it. The carbon-fiber kite flies in circles as high as 2000 feet where air currents are more consistent. Electricity generated by the turbines would travel down the tethering cord.
Human powered monorail
In 2008, as part of its Project 10 to the 100 campaign, Google gave $1 million to Shweeb to create human-powered vehicles designed to travel short to medium distance on a monorail. The idea behind Shweeb is human-powered monorail pods would offer an environmentally friendly alternative to getting across town at the same time giving you an aerobic workout. It's unclear what became of the project, but if you're ever in Ngongotaha Rotorua, New Zealand Agroventures Adventure Park will let you take a ride in one.
Google Lunar X Prize
Think you've got what it takes to build a spacecraft that can make it to the moon and send back HD images to Earth? That's the premise behind the Google Lunar X Prize. Announced in 2007, Google says the first privately-funded person or team to make it to the moon will earn $20 million with $5 million going to the next team to accomplish the task.
Google "conservation drones"
In an attempt to hunt down African poachers of wildlife Google funded a $5 million World Wildlife Fund project to create " conservation drones" last year. According to the WWF animals such as rhinos would be tagged with radio transmitters that would allow overhead drones to follow them. Drones would be outfitted with cameras that let conservationist keep a watchful eye from a nearby computer. The grant to WWF was part of Google's Global Impact Award program.
One of the most out-there alleged Google investment is a space elevator project. According to a 2011 New York Times article Google had considered investing in rocket-less space travel that would allow spaceships to travel up a cable anchored to Earth that extended just outside the atmosphere. Google has since denied even considering the investment. But that's not stopping true believers of the idea who are holding a 2013 Space Elevator Conference this August.
Internet balloons in the stratosphere
In Stone's Bloomberg Businessweek article " Inside Google's Secret Lab" he reported the company may also be considering lighting up the entire planet with Internet access via high altitude hotspot balloons. It sounds farfetched, but companies have been developing the technology for years. In 2008 the Wall Street Journal reported that Google was in serious talks to buy Space Data Corp. The company uses fleets of hydrogen-filled balloons with a miniaturized cell towers and flies them 20 miles in the sky to create communications in remotes parts of the world.