project loon

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It seems like a long time since Google made the announcement to the world about their plan to provide high speed Internet. Codenamed Project Loon, the venture would use high altitude balloons to take Long Term Evolution (LTE) internet to remote areas of the world.

project loon
                                                                                                  photo: unionroom.com

So three years after the announcement, Project Loon will begin testing in real live situation. The Lucky country chosen for the initial test is Indonesia. With a large population of very poor people living in very remote and difficult to access areas, Indonesia is an apt country to test and fine tune Project Loon.

When the project was announced three years ago, Google X was the division in charge. But with the overhaul of Google to create the parent company Alphabet, changes were made all over the tech giant and Google X became known as X. But X is still in charge of some of Alphabet’s greatest and craziest innovations like the driverless cars and Google glasses.

Speaking at this year’s TED conference and in a blog post, Astro Teller, head of X, outlined some of the difficulties they had to overcome before arriving at this point:

project loon
                                   photo: slashgear.com

“One big thing that was likely to kill Loon was how well we could guide the balloons through the sky. One of our most important experiments was putting a “balloon inside a balloon” There are two compartments: one with air and one with helium. By pumping air in, you make the balloon heavier, or you let air out to make it lighter. These weight changes cause it to rise or fall and this simple movement of the balloon is our steering mechanism — we float up or down to find the wind traveling at the speed and direction we want. Is this good enough for us to navigate the balloons? Barely at first but better all the time.

These days, with our latest balloon, here, we can navigate a two mile vertical stretch of sky and sail a balloon to within 500 meters of where we want it to go from 20,000 kilometers away. We still need to lower balloon costs, but last year a balloon made inexpensively went around the world 19 times over 187 days, so we’re going to keep going.”

However, after overcoming those challenges, the Loon project’s balloons is at a stage where the team is confident enough to send them into the real world:

project loon
                             photo: techtimes.com

“Today our balloons are doing pretty much everything we’d need a complete system to do. We’re now in commercial discussions with telcos around the world and we’ll be flying over places like Indonesia for real service testing this year. Imagine another few billion people getting connected to the educational and economic opportunities of the Internet! And it makes me particularly happy to see the Loon team making such a bold vision come together by making fast failing central to their work.”

But this is just the first stage. The X team is anticipating a lot of challenges and hopes to use the Indonesia launch to see how the project delivers real Internet services to people on the ground. Indonesia is not the only country to benefit from the tests though. Already Alphabet, on behalf of X has reached a deal with the authorities in Sri Lanka to have access to the radio frequency needed for the wireless network to work. In exchange for the radio frequency, Sri Lanka gets a stake in project Loon.

Good luck to all of them. Looking forward to seeing those huge balloons hovering over our skies here in Nigeria.

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