As news that Google decided to ditch project Titan that was an effort to make internet access globally available to everyone spread these days, people started wondering again whether the vision of a truly world-wide web is currently tangible or not. The reality is that we should fear not as Google is actually focusing their efforts on that part to a far more feasible and effective solution that uses high altitude balloons instead of drones. The estimated time for the availability of remote internet access through project Loon is two years max, and this coincides with Facebook’s Internet.org project that uses extra-large drones so the race is on.
So, the reason that Google has decided to make this key move is mainly because balloons are much more reliable than drones, more predictable, more controllable, and less prone to crashes that reportedly plagued the most recent test sessions of the project Titan. The balloons can also fly at a higher altitude, thus covering a larger range of data communication (5000 km^2) and get back and forth depending on the needs by simply changing “wind lanes”. More specifically, the balloons fly at a stratospheric altitude of 20 km where winds blow at speeds of the range of 100 km/hr and temperatures of as low as minus 90 degrees Celsius.
The equipment carried by the balloons is a transceiver unit that was designed to be ultra-light and work on renewable energy as it utilises solar panels during the day and rechargeable batteries during the night. The balloons are launched every 30 minutes, take their place in the Loon network, are navigated through Google’s advanced wind prediction model algorithms, and after they serve internet users for a short period of time they are navigated to a controlled descent after which they are safely recovered for reuse and recycling.
As the project Loon has been under active development and testing for quite some time now, many millions of test flight kilometres have already yielded a great amount of useful data that inspired confidence to Google’s engineers. 2017 will be the year where large-scale tests will take place as auto-launchers were installed during 2016, establishing an adequate ring of connectivity around the globe. If all goes well, 2018 will be the year when Google will start to change the internet as we know it, offer connectivity to people who never had the chance to reach out to the web before, and make true and uncompromising internet access a reality.