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Google's 'Project Loon' Launches Internet-Beaming Balloons in New Zealand

Jun 15, 2013 06:37 PM EDT
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California-based Google has launched its 'Project Loon' - an ambitious experiment which seeks to provide internet access to remote locations through a network of balloons.

The first balloons have been released from New Zealand's South Island, using solar-powered, high-altitude balloons that ride the wind about 12.5 miles - twice as high as airplanes - above the ground, the company announced Friday.

Project Loon makes use of algorithms to determine where the balloons need to be placed. Then it moves them into winds blowing in the desired direction.

According to the search giant, by moving with the wind, the balloons form a network of airborne hot spots that can deliver Internet access over a broad area at speeds comparable to 3G using open radio frequency bands.

A special Internet antenna attached to buildings on the ground is used connect to the balloon network.

Google announced the project on its official blog, and website www.google.com/loon/.

"The 30 balloons deployed in New Zealand this month will beam Internet to a small group of pilot testers and be used to refine the technology and shape the next phase of Project Loon," Google stated.

The tech giant, however, did not say what it was spending on the pilot project or how much a global network of balloons might cost.

Project Loon started about two years ago, and it has been in hatching at Google's high-risk research arm, Google X.

Rich DeVaul, an expert in wearable technology (his MIT dissertation was on "Memory Glasses"), had recently arrived from a secretive post at Apple to become a "rapid evaluator." His job assignment was to consider crazy ideas that just might work, and find reasons why they definitely would not work. "Our goal at Google X is to kill a project as fast as we can," says Astro Teller, who runs the lab with Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Google has also developed self-driving vehicles, which the company says could significantly increase driving safety.

Those vehicles are beginning to gain support from lawmakers in places like California, where a bill legalizing their operation on state roads was signed into law last by Governor Jerry Brown.

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