The online giant aims to build a network of balloons, floating high in the stratosphere, which would beam internet down to the earth below.
Google revealed the plan today at a press conference in Christchurch, where it has begun trialling the id
It has launched 30 balloons into the skies over Canterbury, and has around 50 testers ready to try to connect to them.
It is hoped that the “balloon-powered internet access” will eventually be rolled out around the globe, to form a ring which would enable people to connect to the web no matter where they are in the world.
The balloons, which are 15 metres in diameter when inflated, will hover at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam internet to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster, Google said.
“As a result, we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters,” the project leader Mike Cassidy said in a blog post.
However, he admits the idea sounds “a bit crazy”, adding “that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon”.
“But there’s solid science behind it,” he assures.
Cassidy said the team have overcome operational challenges like how to keep the balloons in one place without them blowing away in the wind. Another problem is how to manage a large fleet of such balloons, which he says they are still working on, using “complex algorithms and lots of computing power”.
But the team is now hoping to get some on-the-ground feedback through its New Zealand launch.
“We also want to find partners for the next phase of our project – we can’t wait to hear feedback and ideas from people who’ve been working for far longer than we have on this enormous problem of providing Internet access to rural and remote areas,” he said.
“We imagine someday you’ll be able to use your cell phone with your existing service provider to connect to the balloons and get connectivity where there is none today.
“This is still highly experimental technology and we have a long way to go.”
The New Zealand pilot was launched this week, starting with a few dozen balloons in the Tekapo area. A group of around 50 testers in Christchurch and other parts of Canterbury now have special internet antennas which can connect to the balloons when they are in a 20km radius.
Cantabrians have been invited to come along to Google’s Festival of Flight at the Air Force Museum in Christchurch tomorrow, to be among the first people in the world to see the technology behind Project Loon. The Festival kicks off at 10am and finishes at 2pm, at the Air Force Museum at 45 Harvard Ave, Wigram, Christchurch.
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