Google’s parent company, Alphabet, recently announced that it is going to take down the PROJECT LOON, which provided a ray of hopes in having internet facility all over the remote areas in the world by putting up Balloons in the stratosphere, 20 km above the earth.
This unanticipated announcement came on late Thursday, ending what started almost a decade ago as one of Google’s secret projects in its so-called moonshot factory, a division now called X.
When launched it was one of the most talked projects since it came out with a purpose of bridging the digital divide between the world’s 4.8 billion unwired people and their 2.2 billion plugged-in counterparts.
The aim was to launch thousands of massive balloons 12 miles into the stratosphere. However, owing to the overexploitation of the opportunity by the countries who had not had internet access, the project was unable to produce the profit and money resulting in, less commercial viability.
The road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped,” Astro Teller, the head of the X division, wrote in a blog post.
Most of the employees working at Loon will be laid off with severance packages while some others will be offered jobs at X, Google or Alphabet, said Teller.
The giant hot-air balloons, made from sheets of polyethene, are the size of tennis courts. They were powered by solar panels and navigated by flight control software that used artificial intelligence to drift efficiently in the stratosphere. While up in the air, they act as “floating cell towers,” transmitting internet signals to ground stations and personal devices.
Also Read: Apple Join Hands With Hyundai To Manufacture Self-Driven Car
It was 2011 when Google started working on Loon and launched the project with a public test in 2013. Loon became a stand-alone subsidiary in 2018, a few years after Google became a holding company called Alphabet.
In April 2019, it accepted a $125 million investment from a SoftBank unit called HAPSMobile to advance the use of “high-altitude vehicles” to deliver internet connectivity.
Initially balloons were used only in the emergencies, such as after when Hurricane Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s cellular network.
But later, it announced launching a fleet of 35 balloons in Kenya to offer internet service to more than 50,000-kilometer region to the subscribers of Telekom Kenya. Recently, the company deployed a new navigation system that was capable of teaching itself how to navigate balloons better than the original navigation system.
In Kenya, Loon will continue to provide its service till March, as to have enough time for the team to wrap up operations.
What was Project Loon?
Project Loon aimed to provide internet services to the remote parts of the world. Rather than use under-ground fibre optic cables or construct cell towers to connect users, it used balloons that float in the stratosphere. That explains the name.
- Huge helium-filled balloons — about 15m wide and 12m tall — will be launched at altitudes of 20 km above the earth, above the zone where aeroplanes fly. The balloons can then act as cell towers to receive and transmit signals. Solar panels will power these ‘loons’ with their batteries storing upcharge for night-time operation.
- The balloon’s path was controlled by changing its altitude, so that it can optimally use wind speed and direction. The altitude was altered by pumping or releasing air to raise or lower the balloon. As one ‘station’ moves off to a new pre-determined location, the next one moves in. Users needed a special antenna for receiving and sending radio signals to/from the balloon. They also needed a connection to the internet service provider to access the web.
Project Loon had a potential of delivering internet facilities to save human life in the remote areas. Especially after disasters, it seemed to have helped a lot in technological fields. But due to less sustainability, the venture had stopped to continue its services which sure would affect the employment and the Change it brought.