What’s next from Google X? Drones and bal­loons

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - Jack Ni­cas ©2018 The New York Times Google

Google’s ef­forts to build de­liv­ery drones and in­ter­net-beam­ing bal­loons are no longer just sci­ence projects.

Both ven­tures are be­com­ing their own in­de­pen­dent busi­nesses within Al­pha­bet, the tech­nol­ogy con­glom­er­ate that owns Google and now 13 other units, Al­pha­bet said Wed­nes­day. Their so-called grad­u­a­tion from Al­pha­bet’s re­search lab, X, means the de­liv­ery-drone and bal­loon-in­ter­net teams may now be on a path to soon of­fer com­mer­cial ser­vices and earn rev­enue.

“The seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble can ac­tu­ally be pos­si­ble,” As­tro Teller, the head of X, said in a blog post. “To­day, un­like when they started as X projects, Loon and Wing seem a long way from crazy.”

The de­liv­ery-drone unit, named Wing, has built 11-pound drones with fixed wings for glid­ing to des­ti­na­tions and 12 ro­tors for hov­er­ing over homes while winch­ing down de­liv­er­ies. Wing tested the air­craft in Aus­tralia last year, de­liv­er­ing bur­ri­tos and medicine to cus­tomers who or­dered the items on a mo­bile app.

Wing has strug­gled to per­fect its tech­nol­ogy since it be­gan in 2012, at one point scrap­ping its en­tire de­sign. But its new sta­tus sug­gests the team is sat­is­fied with its progress. Tech­ni­cal hur­dles re­main, such as de­liv­er­ing in ur­ban ar­eas, though reg­u­la­tions may pose a big­ger chal­lenge. The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion is slowly au­tho­riz­ing tests of drone de­liv­er­ies in the United States, in­clud­ing a fu­ture pi­lot pro­gram with Wing in Virginia.

Al­pha­bet’s other new unit, called Loon, is build­ing high-al­ti­tude bal­loons that de­liver in­ter­net con­nec­tions to ru­ral or dis­as­ter-stricken ar­eas. Loon’s huge bal­loons nav­i­gate wind cur­rents in the strato­sphere, roughly 13

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