What according to you is the most transformational technology of this millennium? Is it the Internet? But a high-speed, economical Internet connection is still out of reach for every two out of three people on earth.
Google has ushered in a new revolution of space exploration featuring phenomenal levels of ingenuity, creativity and scientific mastery. The world is on the verge of witnessing a space revolution – the chronicle to construct a satellite network proficient of bringing the Internet to an estimated 4.4 billion people currently living without access to the world wide web.
The balloon-powered network known as Loon may be one of Google’s famed moon shots. This is a top-level concept to launch automated high altitude balloons, floating 18 kilometers above the earth that broadcast access points to Wi-Fi Internet routers grounded on earth. Can this make Google a shark, posing ample threat to other internet providers? And can these floating balloons jeopardize national security? Let’s find out.
Floating internet gateways
Raven Aerostar is the designer and manufacturer of these “Super pressure Balloons” that carry Google’s internet-providing technology to new heights. The balloon envelopes are composed of polyethylene plastics filled with helium, and incorporate a custom air pump system dubbed the “Croce” to control its elevation (US 20140014770). A small box containing each balloon’s electronic equipment hangs underneath the inflated envelope (Patent US20140014769).
A parachute attached to the top of the envelope allows for a controlled landing when the balloon needs to be taken out of operation. In case of an unexpected failure, the parachute deploys automatically. The balloon is guided to an accessible location, and the helium is discharged into the atmosphere (US 20140015694). The balloons typically have a maximum life of 55 days, although Google claims that its tweaked design can enable them to stay afloat for more than 100 days.
The high velocity wind blowing in the stratosphere allows the balloons to float. They can be maneuvered from the ground to follow the winds to new locations (US 8820678) while ensuring at least one balloon gateway is always present in select areas to provide seamless connectivity (US 8634974). The balloons are able to connect to neighboring balloons (US 20130177322) and can only receive signals from Project Loon antennas. This is intended to achieve high bandwidth over long distances (US 20130303218).
The good side of flying internet
Let me now walk you through the pros and cons of this incredible technology. One of the most obvious avails of the project is availability of information. Farmers can get real-time information on their fields and yields, for instance. Then there is the possibility of providing high-caliber education through remote classes over the internet in far flung areas. Thirdly, better communication from the remotest parts of the world can improve human connectivity and provide intrinsic information on a variety of details such as natural calamities, resources, etc.
Will Google’s autonomy jeopardize security?
Having hundreds of internet providing balloons across the world is likely to tip the scales of autonomy towards Google over a wider range of consumer behavior, and increase concerns about internet privacy. The stratosphere is considered to be part of a nation’s airspace, and this might lead to privacy and national security issues.
In case of hardware failure, how reliable is Project Loon in providing an immediate alternative source of internet connectivity? What if a malfunctioning balloon flies into critical areas? What if it gets blown away by natural weather conditions? Worse, will the high speed internet waves interfere with other existing radio waves?
Project Loon is a highly ambitious, experimental technology that, if successful, can make the world wide web all the intricate and well connected. But until it addresses these concerns, it’s likely to be viewed through the lens of skepticism.
(Featured image source: https://pixabay.com/en/hot-air-balloon-sky-blue-cloud-682553/)