According to a report from The Guardian, Google is currently in the process of testing solar-powered drones at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The company is reportedly testing the possibility of using these solar-powered drones to deliver high-speed internet from the air. Google, of course, also has its Project Loon effort, which uses high-alitude balloons to beam down internet service to the areas below. It’s unclear, at this point, if the two efforts are related or will be used in different scenarios.
The project, codenamed SkyBender, has reportedly been in testing since last summer. Google currently is using 15,000-square-feet of hangar space in the Gateway to Space terminal and has set up its own flight control center in the nearby Spaceflight Operations Center, as well.
Google is using drones to test the millimeter-wave radio transmissions technology, which is expected to be vital in the expansion of 5G wireless internet access. These high millimeter waves are capable of transmitting gigabytes of data every second and offering speeds 40 times faster than 4G.
In the end, Google sees it possible that there could me “thousands of high altitude self-flying aircrafts” delivering internet access around the world. To test this idea, Google is using much of the technology it acquired from Titan Aerospace back in 2014.
The testing has not been going entirely smooth for Google and Spaceport, owners of the Spaceflight Operations Center, with there being technological errors and Spaceport essentially running out of money.
Work did not proceed smoothly, however. At one point in late August, a lorry showed up at 10.30pm, causing the Spaceport America team to complain to Google: “We have no loading dock and no means to remove a pallet … from the middle of the truck.” The lorry was turned away without making its delivery.
Later, components were installed upside down or supplied by Google without the necessary shelves, nuts and bolts. Near the end of the build in October, Mike Bashore, information systems manager at Spaceport America, even emailed to his Google contact, “We want to run out to Home Depot for grounding straps.” These are needed to protect sensitive electronics from static electricity. The nearest Home Depot hardware shop is over 100 miles from the Spaceport.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Google’s SkyBender project progresses over the coming years, which the technology certainly being at the beginning points of development at this point in time. Nevertheless, it’s good to see Google already working towards supporting the 5G standard in an interesting drone-based form.