Published: Sat, February 18, 2017
Science | By Carlton Santiago

Project Loon's internet balloons form stratospheric clusters for targeted delivery

Project Loon's internet balloons form stratospheric clusters for targeted delivery

The latest development in the Project Loon service now allows the balloons to provide Internet connections to precise locations, wherever it may be needed.

Past year the firm managed to keep a cluster of balloons over Peru for three months. He likened the newly developed algorithms' objectives to "a game of chess with the wind".

The balloons float in the stratosphere around 11 miles high.

The machine learning breakthrough has set the project in a new direction. They've now exceeded even their own expectations for how well their smart software algorithms can help their balloons navigate the globe, and in the process they've leapt much closer to a day when balloon-powered Internet could become a reality for people in rural and remote regions of the globe.

However, Indonesia's biggest telco Telkom expressed concern, saying the Project Loon will undercut its efforts to lay fibre optic cables in some of the country's provinces.

The signals can then hop forward, from one balloon to the next, along a backbone of up to five balloons.

He said "real users" would be able to use the system in the "coming months", he didn't specify where the intial roll out would take place.

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"The government as well as Google are lobbying the ITU, but if we fail there's a risk Google will go to another country that is not bound by these rules".

Loon eventually plans to earn revenue from telecom operators that want to extend their reach to remote areas in a cost effective manner.

"During our first pilot test in 2013, launching dozens of balloons from New Zealand to see if they'd circumnavigate the globe, we knew we had a lot to learn about how to use algorithms to move our balloons up and down and guide their paths through the sky", researchers said on the Project Loon Google+ page.

It is part of X, the experimental division of Alphabet.

But with improvements, by March 2015, the record for a continuous balloon flight was 187 days.

Alphabet recently told AFP that it gave up on its internet drone project, called Titan, about a year ago, to focus its resources on Loon where it saw more promise of success. Since launching in New Zealand in 2013, the balloons have traveled 19 million kilometers, or almost 12 million miles, according to Project Loon.

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