Google Loon: Internet Access for Rural Areas via Balloon

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Google's Loon balloons connect with one another, as well as transceivers on the ground, to provide Internet access to rural areas. Image by Decoded Science

Google’s Loon balloons connect with one another, as well as transceivers on the ground, to provide Internet access to rural areas. Image by Decoded Science

Google’s latest far-out (and up) project involves the use of hot air balloons to provide Internet access to rural areas. As ‘flighty’ as the project may sound, Google’s combination of computing power, extensive testing, and a high equipment recovery rate means that Project Loon soars higher with every test.

Rural Internet Access via Hot Air Balloon: How Do They Fly?

The Loon project uses available wind-movement data to direct the balloon, guiding it into the appropriate windstream to steer it into the proper location – but how do they power the balloons? With solar power – which allows them to keep the balloons aloft for much longer.

Decoded Science asked Google X Director of Product Management, Mike Cassidy, about balloon guidance and propulsion, and he responded, “A balloon moves with the wind.  If you want to change the direction or speed that a balloon is moving you need to move up or down to find a different wind. A hot air balloon does this by venting hot air or running the burner — you can do this for a while but eventually you run out of fuel.  

Conventional high-altitude balloons do this by dropping ballast (weight) or venting lift gas — again, you have a finite amount of both, which means that your maneuvering is very limited.  You have a limited number of chances to move up or down to find the wind you want. We, however, want our balloons to be controllable for a very long time — as long as the balloon flies, and over time we’re aiming for 100+ days.  So we developed a way to move up and down that uses only the outside air and sunlight.  We’ll never run out of those, so we can make altitude changes for as long as our balloon flies.

Google Loon Internet Technology

The Loon project’s Internet radio equipment operates on the Industrial/Science/Medical (ISM) radio frequencies 2.4 and 5.8 GHz. The balloons offer Internet access similar to that of a satellite connection – but Loons are obviously much smaller, and operators can move them both individually and in a flock, so to speak.

As with satellite Internet connections, signals stream back and forth between transceivers (devices which receive and transmit data). For satellite Internet, that’s a dish on top of your home or office building – for Loon, it’s an ‘Internet antenna,’ but either way, the device performs the same function: sending and receiving your encrypted data to another transceiver up in the sky. What kind of speeds do Loon balloons offer? In the 3G range, according to Google – that’s third-generation mobile communications technology. Of course, speeds will vary depending on radio interference and other factors, just as with Satellite Internet connections.
Click to Read Page Two: Internet Balloon Successes

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