Ten years ago, fresh out of school with degrees in Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, I found my dream job at Makani. A team of engineers, designers, artists, and tinkerers, we were united in our mission to tackle climate change and push the boundaries of technical possibility.
Makani started with the idea that kites might be able to harness enough wind energy to give more people around the world more access to renewable energy. By replacing the massive steel towers of conventional wind turbines with lightweight hardware and smart software, we hoped to unlock access to wind resources too expensive or impractical to access with traditional wind technologies. This unique insight sparked a 13 year-long adventure of designing, building, testing, and iterating, which culminated last year in the world’s first offshore flight of an airborne wind turbine.
Testing one of our early prototypes in 2010 in Alameda, California
Makani’s energy kite was incredibly unusual. It turned like an aerobatic glider and sent electricity down a tether. In its final incarnation it did all this autonomously from a floating platform anchored in deep water. To create this unique machine we had to solve hundreds of problems and push boundaries in aerodynamics, avionics, electric motors, and more.
While we were solving technical problems, the world around us was changing. Global use of electricity from renewable sources has been steadily rising and the cost of wind and solar has dropped dramatically. In fact, wind power is now one of the cheapest sources of electricity available. And while there’s still opportunity for innovation in floating offshore wind, as we shared earlier this year, the road to commercialization for Makani proved longer and riskier than we hoped. We weren’t able to secure the investment needed to take Makani forward, so our time as a company has come to an end.
Makani flying off the Norwegian coast in 2019. The world’s first offshore flight of an airborne wind turbine
The team and I are sad to say goodbye to a project and company we spent over a decade working on; however, we’re proud to share our lessons and technology with the world. Today we’re opening up Makani’s 13 years of technical development and insights with The Energy Kite Collection — a three part report and accompanying collection of open source code repositories, flight logs and technical videos. Now anyone can explore Makani’s design, development and testing processes. We think these materials will be especially interesting to airborne wind developers and researchers, aerospace experts, engineering students, or people who are curious to learn about novel flight vehicles.
These resources also offer the opportunity to get hands on with some of the tools we created to test and build the energy kite. For example, with some basic coding skills, you can fly your own virtual Makani kite using the Makani simulator and cross reference your experience with real flight logs and technical videos. We hope these help others learn new skills, unpack their own technical challenges, or spark new insights.
Fly your own virtual kite using the Makani simulator and compare your flights with real tests and flight logs
We’re also sharing our team’s story with a new documentary, Pulling Power from the Sky: The Story of Makani. The film was created by members of the Makani team and shares what it’s like to take on a crisis as urgent and important as climate change while tackling challenging technical problems. It features beautiful footage from our test sites in Hawai’i, California, and Norway, and provides an intimate portrait of our team and spirit.
Trailer for “Pulling Power from the Sky: The Story of Makani”
Innovation is a relay race, with each innovation building on the work of others. Although this is the end for Makani, by open sourcing our work and story we hope to create tailwinds for the next generation of scientists, inventors and moonshot takers to tackle the near-impossible. I’m still deeply passionate about tackling near-impossible problems, and I’ve found my new home at X to take on my next challenge, on the Everyday Robots team. I’m looking forward to working alongside teams exploring new approaches in sustainable agriculture, ocean health, and more to help with the climate crisis.
Editor’s note: You can download The Energy Kite Report here: Part I, Part II, Part III. In addition, Makani is making a non-assertion pledge for the free use of its worldwide patent portfolio.