Two of Google’s best-known flights of fancy, Project Loon and Project Wing, are being hatched from their X incubator to become independent businesses under the wing of Alphabet, Google’s holding company.
Loon will work with mobile network operators globally to bring internet access to a market of billions of people currently without high-speed connections.
Astro Teller, the “Captain of Moonshots” at X, announced the switchover today in a Medium post:
“Today, unlike when they started as X projects, Loon and Wing seem a long way from crazy — and thanks to their years of hard work and relentless testing in the real world, they’re now graduating from X to become two new independent businesses within Alphabet: Loon and Wing.”
Teller said Alastair Westgarth has been named Loon’s CEO, while James Ryan Burgess is the CEO of Wing in partnership with Adam Woodworth, Wing’s chief technology officer.
Both of the newly graduated ventures already have had turns in the spotlight.
Loon’s radio-equipped balloons played a role in reconnecting areas of Puerto Rico to mobile networks last fall after Hurricane Maria hit. Wing has been testing its drones in a variety of locales, and will participate in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pilot program for cutting-edge drone applications.
But both ventures also face formidable competitors.
Facebook recently pulled back from its plans for a fleet of data-beaming drones, and said that it’d work with other outfits such as Airbus instead. That could serve as a cautionary tale for Loon as it focuses on similar markets.
Meanwhile, Wing will have to vie not only with Amazon, which has been working on its own drone delivery system for years, but also with more recent market entrants ranging from Airbus and Uber to Matternet, Flirtey and Zipline.
Matternet, which is working on an end-to-end automated drone delivery system, received a $16 million boost last month from Boeing and other investors.
It’s certainly in Alphabet’s power to match that kind of investment muscle, but now it’ll be up to Wing and Loon to prove that they can fend for themselves in increasingly crowded skies.