Project Loon is a Google project at that aims to provide internet access to the two-thirds of the world's population which does not have internet access. It focuses on developing countries, rural and remote areas and areas that have suffered natural disasters. It uses high-altitude balloons that float between 10km to 60km above the Earth's surface -- generally higher than airplanes and the weather -- and utilizes software algorithms to carefully position balloons within wind patterns. Google has partnered with telecommunications to share cellular spectrums, thus transforming the floating balloons into large-scale wireless networks for use on phones and other LTE-enabled devices.
Google hopes to deploy at least 100,000 balloons which offer Internet access in remote locations around the world, and hope to retrieve them once they deflate.
Regarding the likelihood of wireless internet via Project Loon, Google X Project Director Mike Cassidy said, "We've definitely crossed the point where there's a greater than 50 percent chance that this will happen."
Project Loon was first conceived by Google X, the division of the company that is dedicated to "moon shots", which are projects that considered ahead of their time. These projects may not have immediate impacts but have a high potential for future payouts. The existence of the project was officially announced in June 2013.
Though Google initially believed that partnerships with telecommunications companies would be one of their biggest challenges, they have learned through the process that the opposite is the case. Because they're working through existing mobile data networks, Project Director Mike Cassidy says, "Every telco wants to partner with us."
Made from sheets of polyethtylene plastic and measuring fifteen meters wide and twelve meters tall when inflated, the balloons last for about 100 days and withstand sub-zero temperatures. This progress was achieved in only a year; original versions included a number of different shapes and designs and lasted only one to two days.
Each balloon is powered by solar panels and a box of electronics which controls the system and has radio antennas which allows them to communicate with other balloons and antennas on the ground.
Defying all odds, one balloon stayed in the air for 134 days, which was a feat that one expert said was "absolutely impossible -- just talk to anyone in the scientific community."
Project Loon has undertaken a number of pilot tests, which are being used to improve technology for the next stages of the project. They have additional projects in the works. India is amongst the most recent..
New Zealand (2013)
Project Loon began in June 2013 with an experimental pilot in New Zealand. Thirty balloons were launched, offering fifty individuals in the Christchurch area access to internet. They worked with the telecommunications company Telstra.
Central Valley, California (2013)
In 2013, Project Loon began calling for volunteers in the California Central Valley, asking for people "who are willing to have a Loon internet antenna installed on their house or small business building to help test the strength of the Loon internet connection." They tested balloon flights over Fresno.
Project Loon tested its technology at Linoca Gayoso, a rural school in Agua Fria, Brazil. The school had never before accessed the internet, and the school's principal, Silvana Pereira, commented, "It makes no sense that a student in secondary school, almost in high school, has to do what it takes to go to Campo Maior to go to a Cyber Cafe or climb trees to get access to the internet. I need my students to be part of the digital era. This is the only way they're going to grow, not only as students but as human beings, with the ability to contribute knowledge to their community."
Washington State (2014)
One of Project Loon's balloons crashed in Washington, causing power outages. Google alerted the FAA.
Google hopes to being Project Loon to India but must first partner with a local telecommunications company. As of March 2016, they were in discussions with a number of them. Google also mentioned that, unlike Facebook's Free Basics internet service, they would not censor content.
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