How to Make a Wind Turbine That Flies

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Last week, we met Corwin Hardham, the CEO of Makani Windpower, which is at work on a revolutionary airborne wind turbine. This week, I want you to actually see how the turbine works. Below, you'll find the final two installments of my interview with Hardham and some shots of the actual wing, as they call it.

In the first video, Hardham describes the "transformational" turbine, but I think it's worth retracing how far they've come from the original vision. Makani was founded by windsurfers, so their initial designs were modeled on the kites that they knew. They had soft bodies and were very, very light. But as they got farther along the innovation path, they found that a rigid body wing was the only way that they could generate consistent power. So, instead of making a kite, they essentially had to build a plane. But that plane had to be able to do vertical takeoffs and landings all by itself, like a drone.

But Makani's team stuck with it because, as you see in the final segment of my interview with Hardham, they believe they have two key advantages in the long renewable energy future. First, their wing takes far less material than do traditional wind turbines. That means they have a hedge against materials costs in a world that could experience constraints in future years. Second, their wing could be deployed more easily and cheaper in offshore installations, allowing humanity to tap the terawatts of wind energy that blow off our shores.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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