Project Loon: Google wants to provide internet access to all… with balloons

About two thirds of the people on the planet don’t have access to the internet. Plenty of people have ideas about how to change that — it’s cheaper to build 3G cellular towers in some parts of the world than to lay new cable or telephone wires, for instance. But Google has another idea: Balloons.

The company is starting a pilot project that involves sending a fleet of balloons about 12 miles up, and using them to beam internet signals to the ground. They’re calling it Project Loon.

Google says the result is a network that provides 3G-like speeds to areas that would otherwise be hard to reach. All you need on the ground is a special antenna attached to your building that lets you connect to the the balloon network.

Getting things to work in the air is a bit more complex. The balloons will move through the air, so Google has to move them up and down through different air streams to control their movement in order to offer continuous internet access on the ground.

Each balloon has a solar panel attached, as well as the technology to let anyone within a 40 kilometer (25 mile) diameter connect to the network.

Google Project Loon

This weekend Google is rolling out a relatively small pilot project in New Zealand. If things work, Project Loon could be the start of something big… it doesn’t solve the problems of getting antennae, computers, phones, and other devices to hard-to-reach areas. But those issues seem trivial when compared with the challenges of building an international internet network capable of blanketing the planet in wireless internet connectivity.

Wired has an inside look at Google’s Project Loon, which has been in development for two years.

  • Joe

    Helium shortage anyone?

    • asdf

      You think they work with helium? Are you stupid? They are hot air ballons, there’s a burner that fills the ballon with hot air that makes it float.

      • Joe

        I don’t think they work with Helium, I know they work with Helium.

        Read about it in this Wired article: http://www.wired.com/business/2013/06/google_internet_balloons/all/

        Quote: “It’s time to launch. As team members take positions to stabilize and
        hold down the balloon, a machine that seems an artifact from the
        industrial age begins pumping helium into an envelope with a sound like a
        thousand hot showers channeled through Jimi Hendrix’s amps”

      • Erik Carreño

        Nonsense, those ballons are made to stay floating for very long periods of time, to make hot air you need something like burning oil that wont last that long.

    • Erik Carreño

      They may also use hidrogen that is even lighter than helium but are not as safe. It would be nice to see some research to use hidrogen as safe as helium.

      • Stephen Lee

        I don’t know if hydrogen is feasible but I do know that even if it were, everyone would be thinking about the Hindenburg.

  • 1stkorean

    This sounds all well and good, but wouldn’t it be easier and less expensive to use the existing satellites that are already in space beaming the Internet to many places as well as most commercial airliners?

    The first Internet ready satellite for consumers was launched Sept. 27, 2003 by Eutelsat. These are geosynchronous satellite with an orbital period the same as the Earth’s rotation period.
    Just thinking!

    • Stephen Lee

      I think it’s very different to have a balloon 12 miles up versus thousands of miles in space especially if the goal is to bring connectivity to places that are less developed. The big issue is that you need to be able to transmit and receive a signal from that far away… it’s not trivial especially since microwaves pretty much need line of sight. Then there’s the question of delivery systems, the immense cost of space based satellites, and what to do if/when of fails? A balloon based system could take a modular approach and basically be a cell tower in the sky why it has less stuff to block signals. I can’t think of any other solution that’s more feasible for regions like central Asia. I just wish I had the resources and the engineering chops to make it happen.

      • 1stkorean

        Thank you for the explaination…감사합니다