Google's Internet balloons not just pie in the sky
If you haven't heard of it before, Loon, which launched exactly one year ago today, is Google believing that faster internet speeds can be brought to the smartphone-toting, mobile obsessed earthlings via a network of balloons that sit 60,000 feet above the world's surface. That's twice as high as the cruising height of a commercial jet.
What Google eventually envisages is a huge fleet of these balloons, controlled via complex algorithms, that can take off and hover above remote parts of the world that are completely unconnected.
If you want access to the Internet via Loon, all you need is a simple antenna. So, in the case of the Agua Fria community school in the remote northwestern state of Piaui, in Brazil, once the balloon is overhead, its signal is picked up via the antenna, and suddenly the World Wide Web is in the classroom, with the teacher supplementing his/her knowledge with Google Maps and Wikipedia.
What is astonishing about the project, with its fluffy sock-wearing ex-military ops staff (there is less chance of puncturing the ultra-fine, filmy polymer balloons when checking for leaks and splits if you're wearing furry footwear, apparently) is how much progress has been made in just 365 days.
At first the balloons could only stay up for a few days, but the systems have been analyzed and re-analyzed. Wind patterns are studied and used, and the vertical reach of the balloons has been extended. One balloon has been flying for over 100 days, while another made three circumnavigations around the world, one in a record 22 days. Any downed balloons are retrieved and analyzed.