Google has just announced Project Loon, an initiative from Google X Labs to bring affordable Internet access to remote places by means of giant balloons.
Project Loon involves flying large helium balloons made of polyethelene film, measuring
around 15 meters in diameter. These balloons are sent to high altitudes of around 20 kilometers above the ground. This is twice as high as the space where commercial airplanes travel.
Such balloons are powered completely by solar energy, and rely on the wind in the stratosphere to move from one area to another. Forming what Google calls a “network in the sky,” these balloons have technology that is able to communicate with other balloons and with antennas on the ground.
Supposedly, these balloons can provide Internet connectivity at 3G network speeds, or even faster.
Once the balloons are up in the sky, Google maintains control over them, and may direct them to the ground in specific areas where they can be collected and reused.
The company has already begun the pilot test for the initiative in the Tekapo area in New Zealand’s South Island. During the pilot test, thirty balloons were launched. These balloons provide Internet access to 50 pilot testers from Canterbury and Christchurch. These testers are tasked to report on the quality of the connection. Google will collect the information provided by these pilot testers, and use it to improve the technology.
Google is inviting those who are in New Zealand and want to take part in the project as a pilot tester to sign up on its official website.
New Zealand supposedly was selected because it had been the site of an earthquake back in 2011, which disconnected plenty of people from Internet access, apart from killing almost 200 residents. Google claims that other areas which would suffer from natural calamities in the future could benefit from Project Loon.
At this point, Project Loon is still in the experimental stage, but Google hopes that the wider reach of Internet access may be used in the future for purposes like education, agriculture, and medicine, among others. This, in turn, will provide better opportunities for the billions of people who still do not have access to the Internet today.