Google’s parent company, Alphabet, says the company has made a “breakthrough” on its plans to offer Internet access to rural areas via connected balloons through an endeavor called Project Loon.
Initially, the idea was to have a steady stream of balloons circling the globe. When one went out of range in a certain area, another would arrive to maintain connectivity to those using the access provided by the balloons.
But now, the company says that through its “smart software,” it has now figured out a way to make the balloons loiter in one place over an extended period of time.
“Project Loon’s algorithms can now send small teams of balloons to form a cluster over a specific region where people need internet access,” the company wrote in an online post. “This is a shift from our original model for Loon in which we planned to create rings of balloons sailing around the globe, and balloons would take turns moving through a region to provide service.”
The company says the discovery was made during testing of balloons launched from Puerto Rico to “hang out” in Peruvian airspace. Some of the balloons lingered there for as long as three months, the company said.
The discovery should speed up the project and reduce costs.
“We’ll reduce the number of balloons we need and get greater value out of each one,” the company said in the post. “All of this helps reduce the costs of operating a Loon-powered network, which is good news for the telco partners we’ll work with around the world to make Loon a reality, and critical given that cost has been one key factor keeping reliable internet from people living in rural and remote regions.”
The Project Loon idea was sparked as a way to bring internet connectivity to the billions around the world who do not have access.
Rather than install traditional and expensive terrestrial wiring, the idea was to float huge, Internet-beaming balloons some 20 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. The balloons would then ride air currents to either remain in place or move to a new location.
Despite the breakthrough, Project Loon still must figure out how to increase the longevity of the balloons, which has maxed out at 190 days, according to the BBC.
Google has also explored the idea of providing internet to rural areas using solar-powered drones, but cancelled the notion due to technological hurdles and costs. Facebook is also looking to do something similar, but one of its drones crashed last summer.