Project Loon is a Google project involving sending hot air balloons to the stratosphere in order to deliver Wi-Fi access to rural and underserved areas. Many of these Google balloons are already in flight and have been able to connect some communities, such as those in New Zealand and other isolated areas, to the global Internet. The first balloons flew over areas of California. In 2013, Google did a pilot project in New Zealand with about 30 balloons. Since then, the scope and volume of the project have steadily expanded. Project Loon started in 2011 after much discussion and a delayed plan in 2008.
How Loon works:
The balloons made up of sheets of polyethylene are built to last 100 days, and can be moved along the wind currents.
Internet providers on the ground connect with transmitters on the floating balloons. Depending on where coverage is needed, the signal can be passed between balloons using lasers.
Google, famous for its many high-tech endeavors, has multiple projects in the works to get high-speed Internet connectivity to the masses. Their Google Fiber project aims to provide Gigabit service far faster than the connection speeds we’re used to using fiber optics, and it has pilots of that program going in several areas in the US. But the company has another project aimed at getting basic high-speed Internet to areas that don’t have it. And the project uses something we think of as low-tech balloons!
Solar panels power the electronics. The electronics box holds a flight computer with navigational algorithms; an altitude-control system; a battery; and a handful of radios and antennas for receiving and relaying 4G LTE signals.
The balloon is a super pressure envelope-meaning it maintains constant pressure in changing temperatures-made from three-millimeter-thick sheets of polyethylene plastic. Partially inflated with helium for launch, it swells to full size once in the stratosphere. Twelve meters tall, 15 meters in diameter, and built to withstand –117°F temps, it stays afloat for 100 days or more before engineers bring it down for maintenance.
Where has Project Loon helped out?
More than 800 provinces in Peru were declared to be a state of emergency, and Project Loon was able to provide basic internet connectivity to tens of thousands of people.
In March this year it helped connect people in Peruvian flood zones around Lie, Chimbote and Piura.