Within a year, Google is aiming to have a continuous ring of high-altitude balloons in the Southern Hemisphere capable of providing wireless Internet service to cell phones on the ground.
That’s according to Astro Teller, head of the Google X lab, the company established with the purpose of working on “moon shot” research projects. He spoke at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference in Cambridge today.
Teller said that the balloon project, known as Project Loon, was on track to meet the goal of demonstrating a practical way to get wireless Internet access to billions of people who don’t have it today, mostly in poor parts of the globe.
For that to work, Google would need a large fleet of balloons constantly circling the globe so that people on the ground could always get a signal. Teller said Google should soon have enough balloons aloft to prove that the idea is workable. “In the next year or so we should have a semi-permanent ring of balloons somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere,” he said.
Google first revealed the existence of Project Loon in June 2013 and has tested Loon Balloons, as they are known, in the U.S., New Zealand, and Brazil. The balloons fly at 60,000 feet and can stay aloft for as long as 100 days, their electronics powered by solar panels. Google’s balloons have now traveled more than two million kilometers, said Teller.
The balloons provide wireless Internet using the same LTE protocol used by cellular devices. Google has said that the balloons can serve data at rates of 22 megabits per second to fixed antennas, and five megabits per second to mobile handsets.
Google’s trials in New Zealand and Brazil are being conducted in partnership with local cellular providers. Google isn’t currently in the Internet service provider business—despite dabbling in wired services in the U.S. (see “Google Fiber’s Ripple Effect”)—but Teller said Project Loon would generate profits if it worked out. “We haven’t taken a dime of revenue, but if we can figure out a way to take the Internet to five billion people, that’s very valuable,” he said.
Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever
The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.
Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging
The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.
Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI
One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.
The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images
Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.