Google has unveil what it's calling its "latest moonshot" out of the Google X labs. It's called "Project Loon," and as reported last month, it involved sending up a huge number of giant balloons to beam down internet access to remote regions around the globe. Google says that balloons make sense for this purpose — they're cheap to deploy and can provide wireless coverage in areas that would otherwise be difficult to serve due to geography.
Like Google's driverless cars, Project Loon is very much an experiment that's in "very early days." Google says that it has already built the system, however, carrying balloon at 60,000 feet, providing internet speeds "similar to today's 3G networks or faster." Balloons drift, of course, so Google says it's using "complex algorithms and lots of computing power" to ensure that the balloons can move where they're needed using a combination of wind and solar power — potentially floating around the entire globe at stratospheric heights. Google says that the balloons communicate with "specialized antennas," that only work with Project Loon — so it's not using traditional cellular or Wi-Fi tech. On the ground, internet providers can take the signal and move it to the last mile to users.
At Wired, Steven Levy reports that the project started "a little under two years ago." Each balloon starts as an "envelope" that contains the polyethylene balloons and a 22-pound "payload" that contains all the computers and electronics.
There's already a pilot program in New Zealand with 50 testers — Google launched 30 balloons just this week. Google hopes to set up more experiments "over time."