Google is testing solar-powered drones to deliver wireless Internet at a higher speed through the sky. Skybender is the name of the top-secret project, which is not that secret anymore. The tests are taking place at Spaceport America in New Mexico, and the purpose of the project is to find ways to deliver high speed Internet through the air.

The engineers of the project have built several prototype transceivers and are testing them with multiple drones. These drones are being used to experiment with millimeter-wave radio transmissions that could potentially represent the next generation 5G wireless Internet access.

High frequency millimeter waves can theoretically transmit gigabits of data every second, which means that it could transmit 40 times faster than the 4G wireless internet that mobile phones are currently using. Google wants to be able to send “self-flying aircrafts” through the sky to deliver Internet access around the world.

Google Titan. Credit: Engadget

“The huge advantage of millimeter wave is access to new spectrum because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded. It’s packed and there’s nowhere else to go,” said Jacques Rudell, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington and specialist in this technology.

But millimeter wave transmissions have a much shorter range than mobile phone signals. Google is now testing a frequency that broadcasts at 28HGz, which fades out in a tenth the distance of a 4G-phone signal. To make these waves work, Google needs to experiment with focused transmissions from a named “phased array”. The SkyBender is being tested with an “optionally piloted” aircraft called Centaur and solar-powered drones made by themselves.

This issue needs to be overcome before this experiment can have any commercial or private use. This new system could also provide Internet access to areas affected by natural disasters, which can help rescuers find victims more easily, among other benefits.

In order to house the drones and support aircraft, Google is temporarily using 15,000 square feet of a shelter in the Gateway to Space terminal designed by Richard Foster. They have also installed their own dedicated flight control center in the nearby Spaceflight Operations Center.

Google has permission to continue its tests in New Mexico until July.

Source: The Guardian