Google to provide internet connectivity through balloons

Project Loon is aimed to address connectivity challenges.

New Statesman
Photograph: Getty Images.

Search engine giant Google has launched a new pilot programme Project Loon in New Zealand to offer wireless internet services in remote regions of the southern hemisphere.

Google, which is using high-technology balloons designed and developed by Raven Industries for the project, says that the balloons fly in the stratospheric winds to provide internet access to users at speeds of 3G networks or even faster.

Apart from supporting communications after natural disasters, the new approach is expected to become an option for offering web services in rural, remote, and underserved areas.

Dan Rykhus, president and CEO of Raven Industries, said: “Solving the challenge of improved Internet access in developing nations and rural areas has the potential to improve and save lives - from improved medical care, to crisis and disaster response, to better crops for farmers struggling to feed a growing world population.”

The balloons, which are designed to be 60 feet tall and fly at an altitude of 66,000 feet, will be controlled for their speed and direction by technology developed by Raven Aerostar, a division of Raven Industries. They can be moved up and down in the stratosphere to sail on the wind traveling. The software developed by Google will enable in managing a fleet of balloons.

Mike Cassidy, project lead of Google[x], said: “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.”

Google launched the pilot programme last week in the Canterbury area of New Zealand with 50 testers involving 30 balloons provided by Raven Aerostar, to provide internet connectivity to an area covering nearly 10,000 square kilometers.

Google’s future plans include setting up pilots in countries at the same latitude as New Zealand, while improving technology and ballooning design.