Since its inception in 2013, Project Loon has been without a doubt Google’s most laudable project, with the goal of providing Internet access to the world’s rural and remote areas. Being developed by X (formerly known as Google X), the project is a research and development endeavour that takes the issue of the unavailability of the Internet to more than half of the world’s population seriously. As even Google finds the idea of providing Internet access to this remaining population unprecedented and loony, the project was named Project Loon.
Rudimentarily speaking, Project Loon is a network of balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 18 km. Several telecommunications companies, with which X has partnered, transmit high-speed internet up to the nearest balloon, which then relays it across the balloon network and finally comes back to the user through a ground-based station connected to an ISP.
The balloons were placed after identifying the wind layer with the desired speed and direction using wind data, and the users connected to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building.
The balloons were tennis court-sized and made of polyethylene, which is designed to survive the varying conditions in the stratosphere. It carries the most essential components of a cell tower, which are made light and durable enough to be carried by the balloon up in the stratosphere. It is worth noticing that the equipment is powered entirely by renewable energy, with the use of solar panels during the day and batteries during the night.
The balloons, after their service, are safely descended back to Earth by knowing their location through GPS and coordinating directly with the local air traffic control.
The project aims at launching and maintaining a fleet of balloons with autolaunchers, safely and consistently launching a new balloon every 30 minutes. The pilot experiment for the project began in New Zealand, where 30 balloons were launched and 50 local users tested the aerial connections using special antennas. Test flights of over 19 million km have been done to date, with a record-breaking balloon surviving for 190 days in the stratosphere.
Project Loon is a promising project that holds the potential to make the Internet accessible to every individual. India is the fifth country to give Project Loon the green light, partnering with telecom-operator BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) to share its internet spectrum. It is still in its developing stages but will surely become the next big thing in technology once it gets all its visions accomplished successfully.