Some of our readers may be familiar with Nat and Lo, two Googlers who like to make videos of things within the company that strike their fancy. They call this their “20% Project”, a project that Googlers work on in their spare time to promote their beliefs and interests. They put out videos fairly frequently showing the inner workings of Google and its various projects. This week’s pick was Project Loon. Though not exactly shrouded in mystery, nobody had taken it upon themselves to ask the right questions and explain Project Loon to the common man like Nat and Lo have in this video until now. This is just one of many of Google’s moonshot projects, but it’s definitely one of the more important ones.
As a brief introduction to get anybody up to speed who may not already know about Project Loon, Google is using specially engineered giant balloons, designed to float twice as high as airplanes, to transport what are essentially giant cell towers through the air. The goal is to provide internet to the entire world; whether you’re on a farm in the middle of nowhere, in the tribal forests of Africa or on the top of a mountain, Project Loon aims to enable you to get online. According to Nat and Lo’s video, this has so far been accomplished to some extent in testing.
The biggest problem thus far is the balloons leaking or popping under stress, with the longest-lived balloon so far sitting at an impressive 187 days, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated “Leak Squad”, who put the balloons through extensive stress testing that simulates stratospheric conditions, as well as asking manufacturer employees who walk on top of balloons during their making to wear fluffier socks. During pressure and condition tests, balloons are routinely checked for strength at certain pressure intervals, then taken to the limit and purposely burst, at which point the tears are examined using special equipment to see things like what may have caused them, what direction the pop started in and how much pressure was focused on that spot.
While the longevity of the balloons and a few other factors are fine-tuned, testing is set to go live in more locations such as rural Indonesia, with some FCC filings even hinting at more testing on U.S. soil, which could eventually spell the end of deadzones where even satellite internet is barely feasible. As of now, there’s no real proposed timeframe to move Loon out of the testing phase, but with things going swimmingly thus far, it should only be a matter of time before everybody from Uncle Joe in Oklahoma to every village elder in Africa has internet access, helping to bring world culture and economic diversity to anybody who wants it.