X, a tech subdivision of Alphabet, announced that it’s moving closer to realizing its goal of providing internet connection to secluded areas using high-altitude balloons. By adding new sets of algorithms to the balloons, it can move faster to areas needing high-speed internet connection.
X is a moonshot factory which aims to develop and launch technologies up into the air and beyond, in hopes of solving some of the world’s most common technological weaknesses. One of their ambitions is to connect every spot in the world, especially hard-to-reach places, to the cyber network. To do this, they’re launching a network of balloons, under the banner of “Project Loon”, to extend the reach of the internet world.
The plan of Project Loon is to put a fleet of balloons in the air, arrange them in a grid structure in the stratosphere at a distance of 100km apart, and maintain them over a location to provide constant internet connectivity. The balloons will receive internet connection from a source on the ground and relay its signal onto the next balloon. The process is repeated to create an internet grid on a wide area.
The technology introduced by Project Loon has been tested countless times and the signal has been successfully transmitted across the balloons. Testers on the ground holding LTE phones were able to connect to the internet with speeds reaching up to 10Mbps.
The balloons are made of hardy polyethylene sheets to withstand harsh environmental conditions in the stratosphere. Up there, temperatures can drop to as low as -90°C, winds swoosh at 100km per hour, and there’s thinner protection against UV rays. The longest time a balloon remained afloat without breaking was 190 days.
Balloons can’t last in the stratosphere forever that’s why new balloons need to be launched at specific intervals to replace expiring ones. X has already developed Autolaunchers to consistently shoot new balloons into the air every 30mins.
There are instances, however, when winds hamper the movement of the balloons, causing time delays in the replacement procedure.
The new programming instructions utilize machine learning techniques to enable the balloons to move in clusters over a specific area and provide stronger connection signals when needed. Wind patterns and other factors have also been taken into account in movement calculations of the new algorithm. Moving in groups will speed up the balloons, reaching the target area in just a matter of weeks instead of taking months.
X reported it will still take several years before Project Loon can be commercially launched. They plan to roll Project Loon into a separate company once its commercial viability has been proven. The division recently succeeded in releasing Waymo, the self-driving car of Alphabet, to the market last December 2016.