Google’s Project Loon Soars With Solar-Powered Wifi

I’ll admit it. I’m uncomfortable when traveling through internet dead zones. On one hand, I’m thankful they exist, because they force people like me to unplug. On the other, I realize that education and opportunity suffer in the two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have access to a reliable internet connection.

Project Loon, the latest experimental technology from Google, seeks to fill in these internet gaps with a network of solar-powered, high-altitude balloons. These durable air-craft will transmit Wifi signals in hard to reach areas. It won’t be broadband, but for those currently working with dial-up or less, it will be a sun-powered miracle.

project loon rising

Image via Project Loon/Google

You might envision hot air balloons but when Project Loon says “high altitude” balloons, they mean really high. Project Loon balloons will float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. Carried around the Earth by natural wind currents, the balloons will provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter at speeds comparable to 3G.

Each Loon balloon will be powered through photovoltaic solar panels. About four hours of direct sunlight are needed for a full charge, while extra energy is stored in a rechargeable battery for nighttime power.

project loon rising

Image via Project Loon/Google

“For balloon-to-balloon and balloon-to-ground communications, the balloons use antennas equipped with specialized radio frequency technology,” explains the Project Loon website. Those who wish to connect to the ubiquitous network will need a special Internet antenna attached to their building or house (presumably how Google will profit from this otherwise altruistic project).

Earlier this month, Google launched 30 balloons over New Zealand’s South Island. They’re now beam Internet to a small group of pilot testers. Feedback from the test will be used to refine the technology and shape the next phase of Project Loon.

Stay up to date with project updates by following Project Loon on G+.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog