Google’s Solar-Powered Drones To Fly This Year

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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.

solar drone

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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Jake Richardson

Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Twitter:

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7 thoughts on “Google’s Solar-Powered Drones To Fly This Year

  • Loon has no hot air, it has helium

  • Very interesting but definitely feels a bit weird when I think about the likely parallel military implications…drones that stay up for 5 years? We’re going to have thousands of these things looking down on us for any number of reasons…meh. Neat that they CAN exist though #gosolar #solarimpulse

    • I would not be surprised if the military and government are not more ahead than this, they do like to keep things secret, look what they do to whistle blowers.
      But on the other side of the coin, it was thought that solar powered flight was a looong way off.

      • I know they are much farther ahead than this which is the scary part. I agree that it felt like solar powered flight felt farther off…especially with Solar Impulse 2 still in beta mode. very very interesting times we are living in

  • What’s your source for this? CleanTechnica should really get in the habit of listing sources, or at least mentioning if it’s an anonymous source.

    • As I read this piece there are several highlighted links going to source articles and eventually the Google and Titan pages with complete explanations of mission statements and project goals.
      Does your browser not make these as obvious to you?

  • These are going to need Lithium sulfur battery levels of energy density to remain a loft. So until the degradation problem of that chemistry is worked out our some other type of battery comes out these things are not indefinite fliers. Now Solar Blips or light gas assisted flying wings those can remain a loft and under power 24/7 with current lithium ion tech. Pure speculation but I suspect our military is using em.

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