Google will explore providing internet to the world’s most remote areas with hotspots carried on balloons in the stratosphere, the company announced this week. The slightly-crazy sounding but lofty plan is called Project Loon.
Testing on the devices and network begins this month in New Zealand. The balloons are similar to weather balloons but more durable, and will float over 20km above the Earth’s surface, high enough to avoid mountains, commercial aircraft, and weather patterns.
The project is being developed by Google X, the secretive laboratory that also produced Google Glass and the Google self-driving car.
Though it is undoubtedly futuristic, Loon is a surprisingly low-fi, naturalistic solution to the fiber optic cable and satellite networks it seeks to augment. The balloons do not have any direction controls, but are steered by an algorithm that adjusts their altitude to hit predictable “layers” of wind in the atmosphere. Solar panels will power the technology on board.
Loon could bring internet access to parts of the world where broadband infrastructure doesn’t exist and would be to expensive to install. And NBC News reports that Charles Nimmo, a New Zealand farmer who became the first person to receive internet access from Loon, is currently paying for satellite internet costing upwards of $1,000 a month.
Google also stated that Loon could bring Internet to disaster victims.
No word yet on how much the Loon network would cost. (But hopefully it is less than the federal stimulus money that brought affordable broadband infrastructure to 17,500 homes in rural Vermont, which many of you thought was a bad investment.)
What do you think of balloon-powered internet?