Internet Giant Launches Balloon Connection over Canterbury
Google has launched a balloon over Christchurch emitting an internet connection, which could connect to remote parts of the world to the web. “Project Loon” came to fruition in the South Island, where the giant helium-filled balloon, carrying antennae, computers, batteries and navigation equipment, and powered by dangling solar panels, was launched. The project comes from Google’s special X division – the designers behind Google Glass and driverless cars. Google reportedly plans to connect developing markets to the Internet using the “high-altitude platforms” (HAPS), each of which can provide Internet coverage over an area of 1200sqkm. The new wireless networks could be used in areas in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia with lacking technology infrastructure. Google’s lead engineer for the project, Mike Cassidy, said they aimed to build a “ring of balloons” flying around the globe on stratospheric winds, providing internet access to the earth below. “It’s very early days, but we’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster,” Cassidy said. The balloons are solar powered, tracked by GPS and equipped with a self-destruct system and parachute if they need to descend. Across Canterbury, 50 people will be testing the balloons in the coming weeks. If successful, Google will look at taking the balloons from a prototype to working technology. The balloons currently have an expected life-span of a few weeks but future technology could see them last for hundreds of days.