Despite its rocky start, Google's balloon-based internet project is slated for carrier testing later this year.
At the annual TED conference in Vancouver, Astro Teller, head of Alphabet's X unit (formerly Google X), revealed that Project Loon is making progress. "We busted a lot of balloons," said Teller of the project's early endeavors. Project Loon struggled to find a balloon design that was inexpensive, durable, and could navigate precisely and went through many designs to try to find the perfect fit. The team tried shiny balloons, round balloons, and even pillow-like balloons before finding their optimal design: a balloon within a balloon with the inner balloon containing helium and the outer with air that can be released or added in-flight. This balloon, Teller said, travelled around the world 19 times in 187 days last year and the technology can provide as much as 15 megabit-per-second internet speeds.
The next step for Project Loon is to get this technology to consumers. According to Teller, Alphabet is in talks with carriers worldwide and looks to get started in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The first tests began in Sri Lanka on Monday, ahead of a planned venture with the Sri Lankan government. "…Somewhere between five and ten years, it will change the world in ways we cannot possibly imagine," said Teller, adding that Project Loon hopes to connect the next 5 billion people in this time. Teller also discussed two discarded moonshot projects at the TED conference: vertical farming and a rocket-like air cargo ship.
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