Google’s parent company Alphabet has deployed its 4G-connected balloons to the hurricane-hit island of Puerto Rico.
Project Loon was devised by Alphabet as a series of inter-connected high-altitude balloons that work with each other to bring 4G mobile connectivity to places where networks are either scarce or have been damaged.
Working in partnership with the Puerto Rican government, AT&T and FEMA, Project Loon is currently working to provide a strong and stable internet connection to parts of the island that were hit the worst.
“As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible.”
This isn’t the first time Project Loon has been used in a real-world emergency environment, however it is the first time that the team have been able to test out their new machine-learning algorithm for navigating the balloons to their destination.
“Project Loon is still an experimental technology and we’re not quite sure how well it will work, but we hope it helps get people the information and communication they need to get through this unimaginably difficult time.” said Westgarth.
The idea is remarkably simple, but the execution is fantastically complicated.
Each balloon contains effectively its very own cell tower along with the ability to relay signals between itself, other balloons and cell towers down on the ground.
The balloons are then inflated and launched at Project Loon’s Nevada HQ using a specially built autolauncher. Once they reach the stratosphere, Google’s own machine-learning algorithms can then actually predict and navigate the airflow currents, helping the balloons reach their intended destination.
Each balloon can stay aloft for at least 100-days, upon which time it’s safely brought back to Earth and another balloon takes its place.
The idea is that there is a constant network available that can then be navigated to where it needs to be and can provide a stable internet connection.
So far Project Loon’s balloons have travelled a staggering total of 26 million kilometres since they were first tested in 2013.