Google is expected to start flying solar-powered drones this year to provide Internet connectivity to people in areas without coverage or where coverage would benefit from a signal boost. The idea is that a very light solar-powered drone could stay aloft for long periods, hovering over the same area and being powered by sunlight. It would provide much-needed Internet access, and would be self-sustaining while using a clean, renewable source of electricity.
If this idea sounds a little suspect, an unmanned airborne vehicle powered by the sun called the Solar Eagle made by Boeing was estimated to have the ability to remain in the stratosphere for about five years.
Of course, there are already satellites in orbit that provide Internet access, but using drones is likely to be cheaper. Last year, it was reported that Google might spend $1–3 billion on satellites to bring Internet access to unconnected parts of the world. At that time, it was stated that there might be 180 of these satellites, but that was before it was known that Google would choose solar power drones to do the same work.
Google’s goal is to help hundreds of millions of people come online because access to information can improve their lives. Google has also worked on a project using hot-air balloons, Google Loon, to provide Internet connectivity to the same target audiences. One Google Loon test balloon was able to remain airborne for 187 days consecutively and during that period it circled the planet 9 times.
So, why does Google want to engage in such projects that don’t appear to have a clear path to profits? The answer is a single word: purpose. Having a noble purpose — something that contributes to the greater good — can be a guiding principle for an entire organization. “Google was founded with the mission of ‘organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.’ It was a simple statement that gave form and function to everything the company decided to pursue. While still technically the mission (though perhaps one they’ve succeeded in achieving), the more recent iteration would be (and I paraphrase) ‘to create technology that improves people’s lives.’ Though no longer a startup, mission continues to motivate employees. When employees at Google arrive at work each day, they have a shared purpose and that brings clarity and inspiration to all they pursue.”
It sounds like something a charity would do, but some companies that define and adhere to such a purpose can do very well and do good in the world at the same time.
Image Credit: Google, Titan Aerospace
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