New Zealand was chosen for Google’s pilot test of Project Loon back in 2013. 30 high-tech balloons were launched from Lake Tekapo in a test run of Google’s ambition to provide worldwide internet access from a network of balloons.
The Project Loon balloons travel approximately 20 km above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere. Winds in the stratosphere are stratified, and each layer of wind varies in speed and direction. Project Loon uses software algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go, then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction. By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communications network. Watch the video below for an interesting overview of the challenges faced by scaling up from the New Zealand trials.
In 2014 Google purchased Titan Aerospace – manufacturers of the Solara 60 drone. Speculation suggests Google plans to use the large UAV to improve linking between Loon networks and for more up-to-date Earth imaging.
It is interesting to see developing countries leapfrogging generations in technology and benefiting from the latest in materials science. With more and more media services delivered ‘over-the-top’ projects like this may well become important for content distribution to the many millions in developing countries. No longer is it necessary for publishers of content to take on the substantial costs of traditional broadcast networks – and the result could mean more affordable content around the world.