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Google’s Loon project one year old, aims to be operational within next 12 months

It’s one year since Google announced Project Loon, its ambitious plan to bring Internet access to unserved locations in remote areas of the world via a system of high-altitude balloons.

But how exactly has the initiative progressed in the last 12 months? Pretty good, it seems, with Google X boss Astro Teller telling Wired this week that it’s on course to provide an Internet service “in one or several countries” by this time next year.

Since Loon launched in June last year, important gains have been in areas such as balloon flight times – at the beginning, the balloons would only stay in the sky for a few days, but after improving the balloon’s materials and upgrading the altitude control system, they can now float around at 60,000 feet for as long as 75 days, with one still high above the clouds after 100 days.

Goals for the next 12 months include routine flight times of 100 days, and getting 100 balloons in operation at once (the current best is 25) with a view to ultimately having a fleet of between 300 and 400 balloons operational at any one time, offering continuous Internet service to specific locations.

And it’s not just balloons that look set to help provide Internet access to currently unserved areas – last week the Mountain View company said it’d acquired satellite firm Skybox Imaging for $500 million, while in April it purchased high-altitude drone specialist Titan Aerospace.

Google said that the Skybox Imaging acquisition is primarily for gathering high-quality imagery for its mapping services, though added that over time its technology could also be used to spread Internet access across the globe.

Facebook is working on a similar project to Google, with the social networking giant teaming up with a group of leading tech firms in a bid to bring Internet access to unconnected locations around the world using satellites and drones.

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