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Google’s latest crazy idea? Uber-cheap wind turbines that fly like kites

At any given moment, Google X (the search giant’s experimental wing dedicated to making major technological advances) has a boatload of lofty, ambitious, and downright ridiculous ideas in the works. Many of these never see the light of day, but next month, one of the company’s more intriguing projects is set to take flight — literally.

Starting in April, Google plans to start testing a fleet of 84-foot wind turbines –But these aren’t your average wind turbines. Designed by California wind energy company Makani Power, these turbines don’t have towers. Instead, they’re designed to float in the air like kites.

Basically, these lightweight, carbon-fiber kites (which look more like airplanes) are sent into the air while tethered to a docking station on the ground. Once released, they raise up to an altitude of about 450 meters, or around 1,500 feet, and start making large circles in the sky. This motion turns the plane’s propellors, which spin internal turbines to generate power. All this juice is then sent back down to Earth through the tether.

Why collect power in this fashion? Well for starters, winds are typically stronger at higher altitudes. Flying up to 1,500 feet allows the energy kites to capture as much as 50 percent more power than ground-level turbines. On top of that, Makani’s kites require drastically fewer resources to produce/construct, so they can be deployed faster and more easily. In a nutshell, they can generate more power at a lower cost.

The system definitely isn’t without it’s flaws, but it’s exciting to see Google bringing it out of the lab and really starting to move the technology forward.