Ever heard of Loon? No? Ever heard of Google working on a project to provide internet access using balloons? You got it right.
Started in 2008 (officially announced in 2013), Project Loon, is a vision of Google with a mission of providing faster and better internet access to rural areas. Do not get confused by relating this to free basics or internet.org by facebook.
The first attempt took place in New Zealand where 30 balloons were launched into air, 18kms above the ground. It was tested by 50 users and found it working. Few other attempts were made in countries like Brazil and Sri Lanka.
Where are the balloons going?
Project Loon is Google’s pursuit to deploy a high-altitude balloon network operating in the stratosphere, at altitudes between 18 km and 25 km. Google considers this particular layer of the stratosphere is advantageous because of its relatively low wind speeds.
Google claims that it can control the latitudinal and longitudinal position of high-altitude balloons by adjusting only the balloon’s altitude.
What all are used?
The balloons use Helium and Hydrogen gasses to float in air. Balloons are made of polyethylene of about 0.076 mm thick. The balloon contains a box weighing 10kg containing the electronic equipment which contains a base station and radio antennas to connect to other balloons and provide internet access through the antennas on the ground. 4G/LTE service is provided by collaborating with the local telecommunication operators.
The power supply
Each balloon’s electronics are powered by an array of solar panels that sit between the envelope and the hardware. In full sun, the panels produce 100 watts of power, which is sufficient to keep the unit running while also charging a battery for use at night.
There were many incidents where the Loons failed and crashed but didn’t cause any damage.
A parachute attached to the top of the envelope allows for a controlled descent and landing when a balloon is ready to be taken out of service. In the case of unexpected failure, the parachute deploys automatically. When taken out of service, the balloon is guided to an easily reached location and helium is vented into the atmosphere.
The balloons typically have a maximum life of about 100 days, although Google claims that its tweaked design can enable them to stay high for closer to 200 days.
First lucky man
The first person to connect to the “Google Balloon Internet” was a farmer in New Zealand where the initial experiments were carried out.
On 19 Feb, 2016, a loon crashed in Sri Lanka. One of the three loons meant for Sri Lankan air space, was launched from South America on Monday and it entered Sri Lankan air on Wednesday. Few hours after that, it had crashed safely into a tea-growing region.
This is not The End
It’s been reported that Google will be testing the hundreds of loons this year, by collaborating with various country Governments. The response to Project Loon is overwhelming. It has got positive response till now wherever it was tested. Let’s hope it enters India soon and provides internet access all around.
Click here to know more about Project Loon.
More official information can be obtained here.