Google has released 30 balloons into the air this week in order to create a “network in the sky” which could provide balloon-powered internet facility to everyone. Codenamed the “Project Loon,” this balloon-centered wireless network technology of Google is targeted at providing 3G speed to those who lack fast, reliable and affordable internet connections. The balloon-based communication systems are working perfectly for military communications and emergency situations like natural disasters. If the project succeeds, Google will be the first company to make this system work for commercial internet connections.
The Balloons And The Testers
Initially, Google is advancing in small steps and admits that the project is still in its experimental stage. According to a Google statement, the 30 balloons released this week were launched from the South Island of New Zealand. It also informed that a group of 50 testers were provided with specialized internet antenna for establishing a connection to the balloon-based network. Being 15m in diameter while fully inflated, these balloons are sent 20km into the sky. In the facts and figures page of the project, Google noted that the 3 mil thick balloons are made of thin plastics. Using superpressure envelope technology has enabled these balloons to contain a fixed volume, which helps them float longer than the traditional ones.
Technological Innovations Of The Project
Though some balloon-centric communication system tethers the balloons to the ground, Google will not tether them. Rather, the balloons of Project Loon will be controlled from the ground. The company stated that one of the challenging parts of the project was to control the speed and course of the balloons. Another crucial breakthrough for the company was to invent a Mission Control system, which allows it to make the balloons remain in a group so that they can provide constant internet connectivity to a particular area.
Rich DeVaul, the Chief Technical Architect of the Project has explained in a video that the stratosphere contains different layers of winds going in specific directions. It is possible to steer through these layers by moving up and down. In order to keep the balloons grouped, catching the right wind is very important. The balloons will communicate with the antennas planted on the tester group’s homes. The balloons communicate with their neighbors and to ground stations, which are connected to local internet providers. Google claims that a huge amount of bandwidth could be distributed by using this technology as the balloons will be spread in a 20km radius.
The re-usable balloons could be distributed throughout the world. Due to the stratosphere wind patterns, balloons will fly from west to east once they are airborne. The balloon launches are co-ordinated and permitted by the air traffic controlling authorities. Though Google did not disclose the exact frequency it is using in the project, it did confirm that the system filters out the competing signals. Google also noted that it is not the first company to think or try using balloons for providing internet connectivity. However, previous attempts were unable to address the issues of keeping all the balloons in one place. Now the last big challenge for the company is to find a way for managing the fleet of balloons so that they are always present whenever and wherever needed. It is still not clear when the technology will be launched commercially, Google plans to do more research and refinement on the project before releasing it for the public.