Last year we told you about a new, highly ambitious project from Google X called Project Loon.
For those of you not familiar with Loon, the aim of the project was to provide internet connectivity to areas not able to have the high-speed access so many of us take for granted. The unique thing about this was that the internet connectivity in question would be provided via balloon. Laughs were had, doubts were cast, however one year on from the launch of the balloon project it seems that those laughs and doubts were misplaced.
Wired recently took a look at Google’s ambitious flight mission and found that big strides have been made since the announcement of the project last June. The latest versions have now been given LTE capabilities, which frees them from the limitations on range that the initial WiFi-based designs had. As well as the new capabilites, Google have also improved transfer speeds, with antennas able to receive as much as 22 MB/s, and phones getting 5 MB/s. Even more impressively – and importantly – the balloons are staying aloft for much longer now; earlier this year, a test carried out saw a balloon circle the globe three times before descent, and another test balloon sent out has now been floating for well over 100 days with no end or descent in sight.
Google have revealed some of their methods for improved balloon performance, including having to develop a new system for predicting weather using historical databases of data. The balloons navigate by riding wind currents, and with them staying up in the air for weeks and months at a time, standard wind forecasts could no longer be used to plan the balloon’s flights, hence the creation of the new system. There were also changes made to the manufacturing of the balloons, with conditions being matched for what they would eventually deal with at 60,000 feet.
Tests have been carried out in Brazil, and the promising results from those tests will lead to Google planning to run multiple flights that will last for more than 100 days, with the intention that eventually they can launch a fleet of 300 to 400 balloons to provide continue internet service to specified areas.
Despite their successes so far, many still doubt that Project Loon will actually see a full fruition and carry out the intention. The team will not be deterred, however, with Google X’s Astro Teller confident that his team with do what they plan, saying;
“On Loon’s two-year birthday, I would hope, instead of running experiments, we’ll have a more or less permanent set of balloons. Yes, Loon will be offering service.”