Google is hoping to take the virtual cloud into the physical clouds with the rollout of its much-vaunted Project Loon.
Whilst cloud connectivity provided by helium-filled weather balloons that float 20 miles (32 km) above the surface of the earth might sound like a bad April Fools joke, Google hopes the technology will help deliver internet access to some of world’s 4.2 billion people who still live without a data connection.
Here we take a look at five interesting facts about the project…
Just two days after being announced to the public in June 2013, Google began the first tests in the Tekapo area of New Zealand’s South Island. After consultation with local aviation authorities, thirty balloons were sent into the stratosphere and successful started beaming internet signal to pilot testers on the ground.
The test has now been expanded to cover approximately 20% of the entire island and will continue to grow throughout 2014. Google hope to conclude their testing by establishing a ring of balloons around the world’s 40th parallel, allowing people at who live at that latitude to receive permanent balloon-powered internet.
Users on the ground are provided with a special internet antenna which can receive signal from the balloons when they are within a 12.5 mile (20 km) range. Internet speeds will be roughly equivalent to regular 3G speeds on the ground.
A truly incredible piece of engineering, each balloon will be only 3 millimetres thick owing to its construction from polyethylene plastic. They will not fully inflate until they are in their orbiting position, when they will measure 12 metres by 15 metres. Each individual balloon will have a serviceable life of approximately 100 days, where-after the gas will be released and it will be slowly brought back to the surface.
Project Loon will be entirely powered by renewable energy. The balloons will be running 24/7 courtesy of two on-board solar panels, which will both power the electronics and charge the overnight batteries. Movement around the earth will be powered by high level winds in the stratosphere.
5. Disaster Relief
While cynics might say that Google’s plans are more motivated by economical than humanitarian reasons – an undoubted positive side effect of Project Loon is its ability to play a significant role in disaster relief. The balloons can be set up and activated extremely quickly and could quickly restore damaged communication channels for those who are coordinating any recovery.
What do you think about Project Loon? Is it a loon-y idea or an achievable goal? Will Google be successful in their self-styled vision of ‘Balloon-Powered Internet for Everyone’, or will their floating dreams become a deflated disaster? Let us know in the comments below.
By Daniel Price