In the grand scheme of totally insane ideas from major tech companies right now, Google’s Project Loon actually falls somewhere in the middle.
For those of you who have not known about this, Google X’s Project Loon aims to create a “balloon-powered Internet” network, hovering right at the cusp of space, to cover the remote and rural areas that aren’t yet online.
In an update on its moonshot undertaking, Google reveals that Project Loon has come quite far in just a year—especially for something so far out.
Project Loon is tweaking its predictive formulas to help situate these custom weather balloons in the right spot. Thanks to improved understanding of weather conditions and stratospheric winds, one balloon wound up within 1.5 kilometers of its target location after a 9,000 kilometer test flight.
The project is also focused on scaling up—blowing up massive, high-tech balloons takes a lot of time, after all: “It’s one thing for our balloons to last longer, but to build a ring of connectivity around the world we’ll also need to get more in the air.”
Thanks to new custom equipment, balloons with a volume comparable to 7,000 ordinary party balloons can now be filled in fewer than five minutes, making it possible to launch as many as 20 each day. Some of Project Loon’s other lessons have been a product of trial and error:
Project Loon sounds crazy, but like every other initiative out of Google’s mad scientist lab, it’s meant to be a moonshot, not the slow, iterative progress we’ve come to expect in technological advances. It’s early in the race to connect the unconnected world, but our money is on Project Loon’s theoretical ring of smart balloons.