Recently, I learned of a revolutionary project developed by Google to promote quality Internet access to rural and remote places. However, what is truly interesting about this effort is that the Internet conglomerate is using balloons to make the whole thing possible. That’s right, balloons!
But these aren’t just any balloons, these are a global network of high-altitude balloons floating twice as high as commercial jets in the stratosphere.
While those of you reading this (myself included) rarely go more than 15 minutes without being “connected”, roughly two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access.
And while some might argue that Internet access in desolate areas is inconsequential, Google definitely does not think so. After all, with the Internet comes search engines that connect users to a plethora of knowledge including sustainable agriculture, water collection and treatment, building construction, and disease control.
So just how does Project Loon work?
As the term stratosphere suggests, the winds in the Earth’s stratosphere are stratified with each layer containing winds that vary in speed and direction. Utilizing GPS tracking and software algorithms, Google is able to determine more or less where their balloons need to go. Then, they move them into the position where the wind is blowing in the desired direction. By using the wind to their advantage, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communication network.
Through a specialized Internet antenna attached to a user’s home or business, signals are transmitted from the balloon to the ground allowing for connectivity via a consumer grade router.
Amazingly, each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area of about 40 km (25 miles) in diameter at near 3G speeds.
Each balloon’s life span is approximately 100 days. Upon retirement, gas is released from the balloon and it returns in a controlled descent to a pre-selected recovery zone where it is collected and either re-used or recycled.
Where is Loon?
Beginning with a pilot test in June 2013, thirty balloons were released from New Zealand’s South Island. Since then, the test has expanded to include more people throughout the region. 2014 plans for this project include continued expansion that will encompass the 40th parallel south.
For more information on how Internet access is exceedingly beneficial to those living in remote areas, watch Zack Matere, a Kenyan farmer’s, story here:
Want to know what’s next for Project Loon?
Continual up-to-date information on this ambitious project is available by following the Project Loon Google+ page.