Google can now navigate its Project Loon balloons to remote areas
Project Loon, an initiative by Google parent Alphabet, aims to provide Internet to the world using high-altitude, internet-streaming balloons. Now, the company says that it has made a “breakthrough” on its plans to offer Internet access to rural areas via connected balloons.
The initial thought behind Project Loon was to make a “continuous stream of” balloons travel around the globe, using winds at that altitude. They were designed to ride the wind and if one fell out of place another would come in and replace it. Now, Google has acquired the ability to target these balloons at a particular area. With this breakthrough, they will use 100x times less as many balloons to accomplish even more than it has in the past, according to Project Loon.
As per Astro Teller, head of Google X laboratories, the company’s experimental wing, a breakthrough in machine learning will allow Google to control the navigation of these balloons and use less of them to beam internet down to rural, unreachable areas. The use of less balloons will also bring down the expense and increase practicality of the project.
“We always thought Project Loon would operate by creating rings of balloons around the globe and worked hard to maximize the amount of time each balloon spent over land. But over the last few months we were able to make some major breakthroughs by applying machine learning techniques to our navigation algorithms, and as a result, we can now get teams of balloons to cluster together over a particular region of the earth. This has enormous implications for Loon’s economic and operational viability: we can put together a Loon network over a particular region in weeks not months and we can get greater value out of each individual balloon. Overall this means a 100x reduction in the total number of balloons we’d need, which has huge implications for the costs of operating a Loon-powered network,” said Astro Teller, head of Google X laboratories.
The Project Loon balloons will also draw on power from the sun, forming a network of floating communication instruments 20 km (12.4 mi) above the Earth’s surface. The balloons have already been tested in places such as New Zealand and Brazil, and Alphabet has partnered with Sri Lanka and Indonesia to one day deploy them over those countries.
The deployment of Project Loon’s balloons, albeit in smaller numbers, is much closer to reality. Though Teller doesn’t disclose when this might be, he does seem mighty optimistic about where they are heading.
Pointing out the balloon breakthrough as an indication of other technical advances, Teller wrote in a blog post: “You make unexpected discoveries that propel you forward faster than you ever thought possible. That’s the less-well-known secret of our moonshot factory, and the Project Loon team just had one of these magical, serendipitous experiences.”
Source: Project Loon