Two of three people in the world don’t have internet access. That means 2 out of 3 people can’t Google whatever they imagine. They can’t connect to Facebook, they can’t use Instagram and then there are the basics like banking, education, healthcare. Imagine doing anything today without internet?
High altitude balloons invented by Google’s elite Alphabet group and named Project Loon will do just that. The company is building high altitude balloons that fly in the stratosphere to deliver Internet to all.
Project Loon balloons are designed and manufactured at scale to survive the conditions in the stratosphere, where winds can blow over 100 km/hr and the thin atmosphere offers little protection from UV radiation and dramatic temperature swings which can reach as low as -90°C.
Made from sheets of polyethylene, each tennis court sized balloon is built to last more than 100 days in the stratosphere before returning to the ground in a controlled descent.
Project Loon has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light enough and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 km up in the stratosphere. All the equipment is highly energy-efficient and is powered entirely by renewable energy – with solar panels powering daytime operations and charging a battery for use during the night.
Their custom-built Autolaunchers are designed to launch Loon balloons safely and reliably at scale. Huge side panels provide protection from the wind as the balloon is filled and lifted into launch position, and then the crane is pointed downwind to smoothly release the balloon up into the stratosphere. Each crane is capable of filling and launching a new balloon into the Loon network every 30 minutes.
The signals are like Wi-Fi boosters that pass the internet signals from one balloon to the next.
In New Zealand they are working with Vodaphone to pilot the technology. Project updates suggest that progress is being made despite Google cutting back on the idea.
“When Google launched Project Loon a few years ago, the plan was to provide internet access to underserved areas with the help of a series of balloons that would constantly circumnavigate the earth. When one balloon moved out of range, another would move in behind it. Today, Google is still Google but it’s also Alphabet — and as Alphabet’s “Captain of Moonshots” at X Astro Teller explained today, the team recently found a way to keep the Loons in one spot for an extended time, and that will likely be how the company will operate its Loon-based internet service in the future.
“That means Project Loon will be able to work with significantly fewer balloons in flight at any given time. According to Teller, the team hit upon the algorithm that makes this work almost by accident. “By early 2016, the team was seeing a few balloons behave in a slightly weird way: lingering in an area rather than sailing away,” he writes in today’s announcement. “In the weirdness, they saw opportunity. They asked themselves the once-impossible question: could our algorithms help the balloons to stay much closer to the location they were already in?””