In 2013, Google (as Google X) had lift-off on Project Loon, their too-crazy-to-be-real venture to provide internet to everyone, regardless of creed, class, or ability. We wrote about it early in 2016—read our “Top 10 Google Projects to Change the World post—but hadn’t heard more than a whisper since. (To their credit, they’ve posted a few times over the last 600 days.)
Now, that whisper has risen to a roar, as Project Loon is up and running in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rico + Project Loon Timeline
February 2016 – An “autolauncher” called Chicken Little found its temporary home in Puerto Rico, some 2,100 miles away from its original birthplace of Wisconsin. This 55-foot-tall, custom-built crane was designed to do one thing, and do that one thing well: fill, hoist, and launch balloons in under 30 minutes. Little did the Project Loon engineers know, this first test would alter the course of history for Puerto Ricans in a few months’ time.
Summer 2016 – After numerous updates to the integral navigation technology, changes in technique, and real-time tests, Loon balloons took flight from Puerto Rico and descended in Peru some 98 days later. New mathematical models accounted for wind patterns, temperature changes, and altitudes, ultimately helping this test become a huge success. Over the course of 14 weeks in the Peruvian stratosphere—that’s over 12 miles up, folks—the balloons made 20,000 altitude adjustments independently.
Summer 2016 II – The biggest story came from one balloon: Bolt. Drifting for 190 days, Bolt sailed from Puerto Rico and over 19 countries, generating 1.72 gigajoules of energy over its 75,000-mile journey. Endurance aside, the most important trait of Bolt was its ability to withstand the elements; freezing temperatures of -117F and immense 100-mph wind gusts would have buried earlier Loon models. This was the first step toward a long-awaited final product.
May 2017 – The first big practical test for Project Loon was proctored early this summer. As nearby Peru withered under heavy rain and floods, Loon balloons were dispatched to provide basic internet connectivity to thousands of people in Lima, Chimbote, and Piura. Nearly 25,000mi2 of the country gained access to wireless internet, allowing residents to send/receive 160 GB of data over the course of 7 long weeks.
October 2017 – We’ve all seen the photographic carnage coming out of Puerto Rico—here, surgeons operate on a patient under the light of a cell phone—yet aid still seems to be virtually nonexistent, even a month after Hurricane Maria struck the island chain.
Enter: Project Loon.
In collaboration with the Government of Puerto Rico and AT&T, as well as other networks and organizations, Loon has launched several balloons over Puerto Rico to offer emergency 3G/4G LTE service to residents in the area. Other balloons are in transit from Nevada, with the anticipation of a total of 30 balloons serving the area by month’s end.
An experimental new machine learning AI is in place to help the balloons stay clustered together, maximizing connectivity even through wildly changing wind patterns. Although this AI is still largely untested, engineers at Project Loon expect it to enhance all aspects of their service—over time, at least.
With this launch, Project Loon has now embarked on its first-ever journey into U.S. territory, making it Alphabet’s latest incorporated venture (as Loon Inc.) Here to stay? We can only hope.
Keep tabs on what those wacky balloons are up to by following their Google+ page, and watch Project Loon’s video below to get your daily 2-minute dose of “wow.”
We can’t really follow up on the extraordinary aspirations Project Loon is aiming for, but at Opportunity Max, we always shoot for the moon to keep you successful. If you need help getting found online, setting up an organized Paid Search campaign, or assessing your lead generation abilities, we’ll help you take flight. Contact us today.
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