Google has launched Project Loon, which hopes to provide internet to underserved parts of the world through the launch of thousands of balloons to the edge of space.
HumanIPO reported last month Google was set to invest in wireless connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa and was engaged in discussions with regulators in Kenya and South Africa.
In a blog post, Google has now revealed its scientists have released up to 30 helium-filled test balloons flying 20 kilometres above Christchurch in New Zealand, carrying antennae linked to ground base stations.
Google hopes to eventually launch thousands of balloons to provide internet to rural, remote and underserved parts of the world, which could also be used to help in the aftermath of natural disasters, when existing communication infrastructure is affected.
“Project Loon is an experimental technology for balloon-powered Internet access. Balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, can beam internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster,” Google said.
“It is very early days, but we think a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, might be a way to provide affordable internet access to rural, remote, and underserved areas down on earth below, or help after disasters, when existing communication infrastructure is affected.”
The firm says the concept could offer a way to connect the two-thirds of the world’s population currently without affordable net connections.
It works by ground stations connecting to the local internet infrastructure and beaming signals to the balloons, which are self-powered by solar panels.
Users below have internet antennae to attach to the side of their house, which can send and receive data signals from the balloons passing overhead.
Google’s ultimate goal is to have a ring of balloons – each the length of a small light aircraft when fully inflated – circling the Earth, ensuring there is no part of the globe that cannot access the web.
“The idea may sound a bit crazy – and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon – but there’s solid science behind it,” Google said, but added: “This is still highly experimental technology and we have a long way to go.”