Google this year plans to deploy an array of communication balloons around the world as part of its ambitious Project Loon initiative, which aims to bring the Internet to remote locations. To prepare for this rollout, Google has designed and is currently testing a balloon launcher which can fill and deploy these balloons in under 30 minutes. To showcase its efforts, the company released a series of photos detailing the progress it is making on its auto-launcher.
Two years in the making, Project Loon’s goal is to provide Internet access to remote locations using balloons that float in the stratosphere. The plan is deploy a sufficient number of floating balloons with Internet support that communicate using networked ground stations. Internet access will be provided in part by telecommunications companies that are allowing Google to use their regional cellular spectrum. With this technology, Google hopes it can fill existing Internet coverage gaps in both rural and remote locations.
In a recent post on its Google+ page, the folks behind Project Loon detailed its “auto launch” crane, named “Chicken Little.” The three-sided, 55-foot-tall crane will fill the balloons and then launch them into the stratosphere where the prevailing winds will carry them to their intended locations. Each balloon is as large as a tennis court and takes 30 minutes to fill, lift, and launch. After launch, each balloon rises into the atmosphere, where it will stay for approximately 100 days. In its latest form, the balloons are equipped with solar panels that will improve communications and increase connectivity times.
Google constructed the “Chicken Little” auto launcher in Wisconsin and is now using the unit to send up test balloons in Puerto Rico. The launcher is designed to be portable, allowing Google to disassemble it and move it as needed during deployment. “As Project Loon looks to build a ring of connectivity around the world in 2016, we need to be able to smoothly and reliably set up new launch locations in far-flung places,” said Google on its Google+ page. When testing in Puerto Rico is complete, the structures will be transported to Indonesia, which is expected to be the first Project Loon deployment area.