Google's Project Loon Reaches New Heights

For most people, an Internet connection is easily accessible, but there are parts of the world where getting Internet access is difficult if not (currently) impossible. Google sought to change that with a new initiative last year called Project Loon. By using balloons, wind and solar power, and a few algorithms, these balloons were able to provide Internet access in places like New Zealand, South America, and small islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Now, most of them are coming back down to the ground for what the company calls "analysis and upgrade." With the data gathered, some of the balloons have accomplished some amazing feats that could help Google with its next batch of balloons, and the company gave these balloons some recognition with the Golden Balloon Awards.

The first prize is called The Marathoner and goes to a balloon launched from New Zealand in July that finally landed in Chile after 134 days. According to Wired, the longest time that a balloon stayed in the air was 744 days in the 1960's. In recent years, the closest anything came to that record was a NASA balloon that was aloft for 55 days. With any luck, Google hopes that the data gathered from its balloon will be used to replicate or even surpass that feat.

Another notable balloon traveled from Antarctica to the South Pacific Ocean at a speed of 324 kilometers per hour, or about 201 miles per hour. Obviously, the biggest factor for this achievement is the wind, but Google mentioned at the project announcement that it can control each balloon's height with wind and solar power.

Because of this type of control, another balloon was able to reach a staggering height of 25.8 kilometers or about 84,000 feet. Compare that to most of Google's balloons, which stayed in the 20-kilometer range or about 65,000 feet, or Mount Everest, which stands at 8.8 kilometers or about 28,000 feet.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement is a balloon surviving in extreme temperatures. While over the Chile and Argentina border, a balloon had to endure frigid temperatures as low as –83 degrees Celsius or –117 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, the material used in the balloon made sure it could handle such low temperatures for a long period of time.

Google is also looking at other aerial alternatives for delivering Internet access. In June, the company invested $30 million in Virgin Galactic. Google also bought Titan Aerospace, which specializes in making drones, for an undisclosed amount. For now, Google will look at the data collected from the round of balloons, and determine what improvements need to be made not just with the technology, but the balloons themselves in order to fulfill the goal of Project Loon.

Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • SkyBill40
    Seth, you're off on the elevation of Everest by more than 1000 feet. :)

    Outside of that, it's quite interesting to see all the different stuff that Google has going on and makes for good reading.
  • Shin-san
    This is cool, but I wonder about maintaining the balloons. Then again, for Internet, people may go out of their way to
  • satelliteindust
    Have Google and CNES really thought this idea through? Read our opinion on this 'loonatic' project here