With Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org initiative getting a fair bit of coverage recently, it’s perhaps little wonder that Google has made an announcement of its own in the last few days to let us know it’s continuing with work on a similar project of its own.
Project Loon, you may recall, is Google’s sky-based plan to bring Internet access “to people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”
Unveiled last year, the Loon project involves giant balloons equipped with network devices capable of connecting with Internet antennas back on the ground.
In case the details of its ambitious plan had slipped your mind, the Web giant recently announced that one of its balloons has had “quite a journey” in the past few weeks, floating around the world in 22 days, in the process helping to clock up the project’s 500,000th kilometer (that’s about 310,000 miles).
“It enjoyed a few loop-de-loops over the Pacific Ocean before heading east on the winds toward Chile and Argentina, and then made its way back around near Australia and New Zealand,” a post on the Project Loon Google+ page explained. “Along the way, it caught a ride on the Roaring Forties – strong west-to-east winds in the southern hemisphere that act like an autobahn in the sky, where our balloons can quickly zoom over oceans to get to where people actually need them.”
The post added that in the last nine months the team has been using collected wind data to refine prediction models and as a result can now forecast balloon trajectories much further in advance.
A number of other refinements have also been made to make the technology more efficient, with the improvements allowing for much faster altitude changes enabling the balloons to quickly catch – or even avoid – winds traveling in different directions.
“We can spend hours and hours running computer simulations, but nothing teaches us as much as actually sending the balloons up into the stratosphere during all four seasons of the year,” Google said in the post.
Thirty balloons were launched from a base in New Zealand in the initial test flight back in June 2013, with Internet beamed to a small group of people back on terra firma.
According to Google, the current goal is to establish “a ring of uninterrupted connectivity around the 40th southern parallel [this year] so that pilot testers at this latitude can receive continuous service via balloon-powered Internet.”
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