Taking Loon One Step Further

A little less than a half a year ago, I posted about Project Loon, something that in my mind would change developing countries and give them new opportunities. Since then, I have been tracking the progress of this zany idea and have been positively surprised.

Project Loon team install a Loon Internet antenna.
Project Loon team installs a Loon Internet antenna.

Project Loon started in June of 2013 and, in the beginning, many, including Google, were skeptical about Google X’s new undertaking. I was unsure about the idea as well, but who wouldn’t! It is definitely an unconventional one: having balloons up in the sky at all times, connecting the 60% of Africans in developing countries that currently don’t have access to the Internet? That sounds like craziness. But absurd ideas are sometimes the best, and Google has the phenomenal reputation of turning the unimaginable into a reality.

Per Lindstrand, a Swedish, aeronautical, engineer, pilot, adventurer, and entrepreneur, is one of the skeptics that did not have a lot of faith in Project Loon. When he heard about the claim that Loon balloons would eventually keep going for 100 days, he replied that it is “Absolutely impossible— even three weeks is rare.” Well, this well-respected man was wrong. Exactly a month ago, the balloon Ibis 152 has completed the milestone of being aloft for 120 days, since it launched in New Zealand on February 26. This balloon completed one circumnavigation in 22 days, which is a world record.

Not only has Project Loon been able to extend its flight times (it is not uncommon to see a balloon being up in the air for 75 days), it has also thrived in other ways. Loon has been able to add mobile connectivity to the service and make the balloons fly higher than 60,000 feet, or about 200 football fields. With all this good news, Google is very optimistic about the future.

Picture by Google
Picture by Google

“This is the poster child for Google X. The balloons are delivering 10x more bandwidth, 10x steer-ability, and are staying up 10x as long. That’s the kind of progress that can only happen a few more times until we’re in a problematically good place.”— Astro Teller, the head of the division of Google X.

Astro Teller does not want to limit Project Loon to rural areas in developing countries. “Even in the middle of Silicon Valley you can lose connection while driving; large buildings and hills can block the signal. Balloons can fill in dead spots.” By widening the receivers of balloon-acquired Internet, Project Loon will also be able to financially stay afloat, since it can then partner with existing providers to deliver a super-roaming experience across the US.

Future goals of Project Loon:

  • Routine flights of 100 days
  • 100 balloons in the air at once
  • A full ring of 300-400 balloons circling the globe for continuing service

One thought on “Taking Loon One Step Further

  1. Thanks for the update on Project Loon. It once again demonstrates how private business is solving problems that should have been addressed years ago by national governments.

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