The internet is the very definition of a transformative technology. It’s exploded into a sprawling labyrinth of information, shopping and entertainment that alternately boosts or drains productivity. For every cat video someone shares on Facebook, there’s a TED Talk or a file transferred via the cloud.
Google wants to bring the internet to as many users as possible, so it has been investigating ways of providing access to people across the globe. Part of the challenge involved with that goal is providing access to users in places where terrain or circumstance have prevented a developed infrastructure. The potential solution Google has unveiled is called Project Loon, and uses balloons to form a network.
Balloons, with all their effortless elegance, present some challenges. Many projects have looked at high-altitude platforms to provide Internet access to fixed areas on the ground, but trying to stay in one place like this requires a system with major cost and complexity. So the idea we pursued was based on freeing the balloons and letting them sail freely on the winds. All we had to do was figure out how to control their path through the sky. We’ve now found a way to do that, using just wind and solar power: we can move the balloons up or down to catch the winds we want them to travel in. – Google
The wind power solution Google mentioned is thanks to a recent acquisition of a company specializing in wind turbine technology. The turbine power will be used in conjunction with algorithms to keep the balloons hovering over the areas Google has assigned to each balloon to ensure consistent coverage.
Google is testing Project Loon over the Canterbury area of New Zealand, with a pool of around 50 testers and at least 30 balloons hovering overhead. Below you’ll find a couple of videos about the project.