Google is establishing itself as a forward thinking company. Google Glass is posed to change the face of computing. The newest futuristic item Google has been working on is Project Loon.
In case you haven’t hear of it yet, Project Loon’s Google+ page describes it as “A network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”
First launched in June 2013, Project Loon aims to provide internet access to more people. On their official blog, Google pointed out that “for 2 out of every 3 people on earth, a fast, affordable Internet connection is still out of reach. And this is far from being a solved problem.” How does Google plan on helping to solve this problem? With balloons. And radio frequency. And renewable resources. With that combination, Project Loon will change the landscape of wireless connection.
Each balloon in Project Loon has three components, the envelop, solar panels and the attached equipment. The Envelop, or balloon part, is made from polyethylene plastic, and will stand fifteen meters wide by twelve meters when inflated. The solar panels will be used to power each balloon, producing 100 Watts of power when exposed to the sun, enough to run the balloon while charging a battery for use at night. The equipment is attached at the bottom of the balloon, and contains everything needed to transmit internet access, communicate with and control the balloon, and batteries to store solar power collected.
The balloons will travel in the stratosphere, where the winds are usually steady. They will reach their desired destination by increasing or decreasing the altitude they are flying, in order to catch the wind moving in the desired direction. By flying in the stratosphere, the balloons will be safely above air traffic, and out of danger from the weather. Using solar power to operate, and the wind to move, the balloons will be totally Green and self sustaining.
The balloons will use antennas equipped with specialized radio frequency technology to communicate between balloons and transmit internet to the ground below. According to Project Loon’s Google+ page, “People connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal bounces from balloon to balloon, then to the global Internet back on Earth.”
Google reports that the balloons will provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter, with connection speeds comparable to 3G.
The initial flights took place over New Zealand, with additional flights taking place over California’s Central Valley. Google stated that "The purpose of these flights is to allow us to research various approaches for improving the technology, like the power systems (solar panel orientation and batteries), envelope design, and radio configuration”.
While Project Loon is quite a noble cause, it is still in the developmental phases. What will the future hold for this moon-shot project? The world will have to wait and see.