Even we laughed a little when Google X announced Project Loon — an ambitious experiment built to give rural areas balloon-powered Internet access — but one year later, the company may have proven its point: this could work. Since the project was announced last June, the company has made huge strides in balloon flight time and connectivity. Wired reports that Google’s latest floating hotspots have been given LTE capabilities, freeing them from the range limitations the original WiFi-based designed burdened them with. These new radios offer better transfer speeds, too — as high as 22 MB/s to an antenna or 5 MB/s to a phone. More importantly, the balloons are staying aloft for much longer: earlier this year, one test circled the globe three times before dropping to the ground, and another has been floating for over 100 days – and it’s still up there.
Google explained to Wired a few of the methods it employed to improve balloon performance, some of which were deceptively simple. Many of the balloons, for instance, are manufactured at -40 degree Celsius, matching the conditions they would eventually face at 60,000 feet. The team also found ways to handle the airbags more carefully, ensuring there were less pinhole leaks to sabotage the balloon’s eventual flight. Of course, these more durable and longer flying craft gave the group more problems to solve — the balloons navigate by riding favorable wind currents, but when the airships started to stay aloft for weeks at a time, Google could no longer use standard wind forecasts to plan flights. In the end, the company had to devise its own system of prediction using historical databases of weather data.
Early tests in Brazil have shown huge promise, and the team plans to spend the next year delivering on that promise. Over the next twelve months, Google hopes to run multiple flights that last for more than 100 days, eventually launching a ring of 300 to 400 balloons that can circle the clone and provide continued service to specific areas. That’s an incredibly ambitious goal, but Google X’s Astro Teller is confident his team can pull it off. “On Loon’s two-year birthday, I would hope, instead of running experiments, we’ll have a more or less permanent set of balloons,” he told Wired. “Yes, Loon will be offering service.” Read up on Project Loon’s full story at the source link below.