by Samantha Englert
In US Cities, one never really worries about Internet connectivity; yet, nearly two-thirds of the global community does not have Internet access. To address this worldwide coverage gap, scientists from Google recently announced at a TED conference their plans to test launch fleets of solar powered high-altitude wi-fi balloons with telecommunication carriers in Indonesia. The mission of this work, referred to as Project Loon, a name chosen to represent both ‘flight’ and ‘insanity,’ is to supply Internet connectivity to rural and remote regions around the world, and to ensure coverage during and after disasters.
There were several challenges that the creators of Project Loon faced over the last three years of pilot testing in isolated regions of New Zealand, Australia, and Brazil. They needed to design a balloon that was cost-efficient and self-sufficient, could navigate precisely with a life expectancy of over five months, and deliver fast Internet connectivity through an aerial wireless network. Project Loon’s scientific team has managed to check off all these boxes and develop a successful prototype. The balloons, made out of lightweight, inexpensive and sturdy polyethylene plastic and measure 15 by 12 meters when inflated with helium gas, contain a modified Wi-Fi router. This design enables the balloons to be placed in the Stratosphere (approximately double the height of commercial airline flights), where using software algorithms, they are directed to rise or descend into layers of wind headed in the preferred direction of travel. The balloons are powered solely through renewable energy sources; they move with the wind and charge in the sun using lightweight solar panels. The panels can produce up to 100 Watts of solar power on a sunny day, which can keep the balloons’ charged and running throughout the night.
Project Loon’s current plan is to partner with global Telecommunication companies, and send fleets of balloons to form a large connectivity network that can deliver 4G LTE wireless connection with wi-fi speeds of up to 15 megabits per second where people can directly connect through their phones or computers. Their pilot trials have been encouraging. For example, a small school in rural northeastern Brazil was able to supplement their geography textbook study of Portugal by viewing interactive Internet maps. Google is hopeful that their large Indonesia launch will be successful, and that Project Loon will enable millions more to be online in the next two years.
Mishram DK. 2015. Project Loon and How It Will Change the Internet of Things. Medium. Dec, 1. 2015. [https://medium.com/@dkdissects/project-loon-and-how-it-will-change-the-internet-of-things-8335dbc90a36#.dlhvhnc8z]