project loon solar powered balloon
Project Loon solar powered balloon

Google X: Balloon Powered Internet For All

Google X has been taking some serious strides in the field of renewable energy in the last couple of weeks. It bought Makani Power, the guys behind harnessing wind energy by flying kites, and now they are utilizing high-altitude, solar powered balloons that can transmit signals across hundreds of square kilometres that provides internet access.

The ambitious plan is to provide internet access to the 4.7 billion people who currently can’t access the internet via a ring of huge balloons circling the globe (according to a report published by tech firm Cisco).

The code-named Project Loon launched a trial with up to 30 helium-filled balloons flying 20 kms above Christchurch, New Zealand, carrying antennae linked to ground base stations.

About 50 people chosen to take part in the trial were able to link to the internet, with signals successfully beamed from another part of New Zealand to the 15-metre diameter balloons and then to the users’ homes.

Google sees the technology that will one day be instrumental in providing internet access to disaster zones, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the earthquake in Haiti, both of which destroyed communications, causing huge problems for rescuers.

Google believes it could also be used as a relatively cheap way to provide at least 3G speed web access to remote and poorer areas of the world.


Google’s balloons utilize power from table-sized solar panels that dangle below and gather enough charge in four hours to power them for a day as the balloons sail around the globe on the prevailing winds. Far below, ground stations with Internet capabilities about 100 kms apart bounce signals up to the balloons.

Each balloon can provide Internet service to an area of about 1,250 sq. kms and terrain is not a challenge.  There are plenty of catches, including a requirement that anyone using Google Balloon Internet would need a receiver plugged into their computer in order to receive the signal.

Google X is the search giant’s factory for moonshots, those million-to-one scientific bets that require generous amounts of capital, massive leaps of faith, and a willingness to break things. Google X is home to the self-driving car initiative and the Internet-connected eyeglasses, Google Glass, among other improbable projects.

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