Technology

Google’s Project Loon: A Failure Once, But Entering Carrier Testing This Year

Google’s Project Loon almost failed when the Internet firm was unable to find a balloon design that could be inexpensive and durable enough to float and navigate to predictably travel through the stratosphere. But now the project is entering the testing phase with carriers, says a report from Re/code.

Google's Project Loon: A Failure Once, But Entering Carrier Testing This Year

In testing with carriers globally

Alphabet’s head of the X unit, Astro Teller, said they broke a lot of balloons to zero in on the right one. There were shiny balloons, round balloons and balloons that looked like giant pillows, and eventually, the company succeeded in finding a design that could be made cheaply and also navigate precisely. Teller, who was present at the annual TED conference which kicked off on Monday in Vancouver, said the balloon traveled around the world 19 times in a duration of 187 days last year.

“So we are going to keep going,” Teller said, adding that the balloon used to offer a slow connection but had advanced enough to deliver Internet access at about 15 megabits per second, which is enough to deliver video such as live broadcasts.

Its performance in delivering real Internet service to consumers remains to be seen and is the next step. Following a deal with Indonesia, Google also struck a deal with the Sri Lankan government to exchange access to the needed radio frequency spectrum in return for a stake in the project.

Teller said that the company is in talks with carriers around the world, and there are strong chances that in the next five to ten years, Internet access will be available to a further 5 billion people.

“It will change the world in ways we cannot possibly imagine,” the executive said.

Moonshots that Google abandoned

Teller also discussed two moonshots that Google abandoned. He informed attendees at the TED conference that their vertical farming would have used up one-tenth of the water and one-one-hundredth of the land that traditional agriculture demands. Google did see some success, but it failed at growing staple crops like grain or rice.

The other abandoned effort was developing a rocket-like air cargo ship that could land without a runway, thus helping landlocked countries ship goods far more cheaply. Teller said the idea would have worked in itself, but it incurred huge expenses. About $200 million would have been spent on building just the first unit. It proved too much of a gamble, even for a company like Google.