Project Loon

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The Google Project Loon has recorded a ‘first.’ One of the balloons crashed in Chile last Saturday according to news report. The Project Loon balloons are Google’s widely reported attempt to beam high speed LTE Internet services around the world, especially to remote and poor regions where Internet access is difficult and expensive.

Project Loon
The crashed balloon

The Loon project is based on the use of several high altitude balloons fitted with enough equipment to beam internet signals to people on the ground. The balloons orbit the earth stratosphere at an altitude where winds and weather patterns would not greatly impact on their operations. And besides they are so high they are beyond accidentally crashing with aeroplanes. That is the long and short of the loon project: thousands of high altitude balloons slowly orbiting the earth while sending high speed Internet signals to us.

This first crash of a Project Loon balloon brought to mind two scenarios. The first is, in the near-future people would be buying telescope to know the position of the balloons and the second scenario is a bit nightmarish: a balloon out of control quietly crashing on you (with devastating effect) while you are outside enjoying the cool night breeze. It could happen to just anybody, after all with machines, anything could go wrong at anytime.,

Project Loon
Investigators at the crash site

And just like when Google self-driving car had its first crash, Google has spinned the news of the crash into positive publicity for the company and the project. In reply to queries about what actually happened, Google was quick to reassure the people of Chile that the balloon was brought down deliberately in a controlled operation. Because the balloon had successfully completed its test run.

A check at the Project Loon website showed that Google’s version of what actually happened is probably true. Part of the write-up on on how Project Loon works also dealt with controlled crashing:

Loon’s balloon envelopes are made from sheets of polyethylene plastic, and they measure fifteen meters wide by twelve meters tall when fully inflated. When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, gas is released from the envelope to bring the balloon down to Earth in a controlled descent. In the unlikely event that a balloon drops too quickly, a parachute attached to the top of the envelope is deployed.”

And the statement Google released concerning the issue corroborated the control-landing explanation:

“This was a planned landing for Project Loon, a project that hopes to beam Internet access to rural, remote, and underserved parts of the world. The balloon that landed on Saturday, April 23 had successfully concluded a test flight and we coordinated with local air traffic control as we managed its slow descent to a rural area just east of Los Ángeles, Chile.”

Meanwhile, Chilean authorities have cordoned off the site of the crash. A combined team of local police, Chile’s aviation authority and a special investigative unit are all involved in investigating the crash of the Project Loon balloon. I bet the conclusions from the investigation would mostly vindicate Google’s position.


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