Career Spotlight: Kite Designer

Career Spotlight: Kite Designer


My name is Damon Vander Lind, I’m a kite
designer for the Makani project at Google X. What we’re trying to do at Makani is developing new type of wind power in which we use a very lightweight kite
to harvest winds of high altitudes. And we see this as a much cheaper and faster to deploy option than
conventional wind power. A traditional wind turbine harvests wind power by basically slowing air down. The goal
is to steal energy — to take energy out of the air and convert it into electrical power. So the tip of a wind turbine blade harvests most of the power. We’re building a system that is just the
tip of the blade, so we’ve gotten rid of basically 90% of the system while getting the same power out. Renewable energy is important because the way we currently make power is digging up dinosaurs and dead trees that have been compressed for a long time and burning them. And while it’s a very easy way to get
power, it’s not really a good long-term solution. So, renewable energy is basically trying
to replace that with something that will last. As a kite designer, I do basically
everything that’s fun in engineering. So this includes flight-testing; we go out and we test our devices. One of the things I do is I’m a test pilot, so if something goes
wrong — I am one of the people that will fly and
land our systems. I do a lot of design work. So, theoretical work, writing controllers and simulators, and modeling the systems. If you wanna be a doctor, you have to go to med school, then do residency, and then start your practice — it’s a very long process. If you wanna be an engineer, all you have to do is have the skills to do the job. The way that I obtained the skills to start in the field was I went to MIT and I studied physics and electrical engineering. I came here as an intern and I found that it was so fun, and I got to
work on such interesting, challenging problems that I decided to stay and I’ve been here ever since. If you’re
thinking about becoming an engineer or a designer or inventor, one of the
things that you should probably do is spend a lot of time in the shop. When I was a kid, my dad’s a fishermen and a contractor, so I spent a
lot of time tinkering with boats and helping him build houses. And I think that was a big part of
leading to me doing what I do now. On average, engineers do pretty well for themselves. If you look at musicians, for example, there are rock stars out there that get paid
a lot but the average musician has to work pretty hard to make money.
Engineering is in high demand and that demand is only
going up. So, basically anyone who wants to go into the field
and gain the skills to become an expert — there’s a job for them.


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