Loon – Balloon Enabled Internet

Posted on June 15, 2013  Comments (7)

Project Loon, from Google:

The Internet is one of the most transformative technologies of our lifetimes. But for 2 out of every 3 people on earth, a fast, affordable Internet connection is still out of reach.

We believe that it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below. It’s very early days, but we’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster. As a result, we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters.

Google testing out this system now in New Zealand. If they can get it to work they plan to use ballons to provide wireless internet access to hundreds of millions, or even billions, of people that don’t have access now. These ballons would float about 20 km above earth in the stratosphere (so well above where commercial airline traffic) and they are really working somewhat like to satellites.

Though ballons are much cheaper to put in place than satellites they also offer significant problems as they get blow around by wind (which is why they haven’t been used before and why Google is going to experiment to see if they can get it to work). The ballons will use solar power and be controlled by a mission control to move into different wind zones to position themselves.

So the idea we pursued was based on freeing the balloons and letting them sail freely on the winds. All we had to do was figure out how to control their path through the sky. We’ve now found a way to do that, using just wind and solar power: we can move the balloons up or down to catch the winds we want them to travel in. That solution then led us to a new problem: how to manage a fleet of balloons sailing around the world so that each balloon is in the area you want it right when you need it. We’re solving this with some complex algorithms and lots of computing power.

Some of the technical details:

Google has maintained their interest and willingness to invest in extremely innovative engineering challenges (such as Google’s Self Driving Car) – even while other decisions in Google seem more driven by “suits” than engineers (which I see as a mistake on Google’s part).

Related: Google Invests $168 million in Largest Solar Tower Power ProjectGoogle Investing Huge Sums in Renewable Energy and is Hiring (2007)Larry Page on How to Change the World (2008)The Next steps for Google’s Experimental Fiber Network

7 Responses to “Loon – Balloon Enabled Internet”

  1. Nithin Upendran
    June 16th, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

    yea this is great.i read it on today’s newspaper.Project Loon is really fascinating,it can be used during disasters.Any way thanks howdy for sharing it.

  2. Aaron Stene
    June 18th, 2013 @ 6:53 am

    That’s an amazing concept. How many balloons would be needed for full coverage of the earth? If they were perfectly aligned, it would take approx 640 to cover the surface of the earth (line of sight from 20km up), but that assumes that they are in the correct position at all times, which I’m certain they never will be. Additionally, will they want to cover all the oceans? If not, that’s quite a bit of surface area saved.

  3. Trung Nguyen
    June 18th, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

    Yes that’s really a awesome project! I’ve seen many days. I’m not in New Zealand, so can not be a tester for this, what a pity!

  4. Rick Miles
    June 20th, 2013 @ 5:51 am

    The internet via balloons – there’s a sentence that we wouldn’t have expected 15 years ago!

    It’s interesting how they navigated the obvious problems with balloons here.

  5. Suleman Hussain
    June 24th, 2013 @ 3:34 am

    Its truly an amazing invention for the developing countries.

  6. Anshul
    August 7th, 2013 @ 1:25 am

    yea this is great.The internet via balloons agood way to provide internet in area wirelessly.Project Loon is really fascinating

  7. ezhilan
    September 3rd, 2013 @ 4:26 am

    Project Loon is amazing.

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