Loon

Loon

Expanding internet connectivity with stratospheric balloons

Introduction

Project Loon was created to experiment with a new method of connecting people to the internet: a network of stratospheric balloons rather than lines in the ground. Loon collaborated with the Spanish telecom business Telefonica in 2017 to give internet access to Peruvians who had to flee their homes due to floods. Following Hurricane Maria in 2018, Loon collaborated with AT&T and T-Mobile to reconnect over 200,000 Puerto Ricans to the internet.

Challenge

Still now Billions of people across the globe don’t have a reliable, affordable internet access

The internet has changed the way the world communicates, learns, governs, and trades ideas, but billions of people throughout the world do not have consistent affordable access. Loon was a novel way of increasing internet connectivity. Rather of attempting to extend the internet through traditional ground-based infrastructure such as fibre optic cables or mobile phone towers, Loon went to the skies with a network of balloons. The balloons of Loon project flew along the edges of the space in order to bring internet access to remote regions, equals the gaps in coverage and in case of disaster it helps to enhance network resilience.

Loon spent nine years developing solutions for stratospheric connection.

Journey

Connecting the Unconnected.

The Loon team began with a question: Could a network of stratospheric internet-beaming balloons be the daring concept that eventually brings plentiful, inexpensive internet access to the last billion people, not just the next billion? To the last disconnected communities and the poorest of the poor?

Initially the Loon team started flying some of their prototypes over California’s central valley to investigate if their concept has potential. The team found a bunch of friendly New Zealanders in 2013, they are the first to experience the world’s first stratospheric balloon internet. These early experiments revealed the promise of Loon, and after further research, the team beamed the first LTE connection from the stratosphere to a school in Brazil, demonstrating that balloons could connect directly to people’s phones. Over the years, Loon overcame one technological challenge after another, accomplishing feats previously believed impossible, such as utilising lasers to transmit connection (and a copy of the film Real Genius) across stratospheric balloons, or establishing a mesh network in the sky.

When flooding in Peru and a devastating storm in Puerto Rico destroyed crucial ground infrastructure in 2017, the Loon team piloted balloons to the disaster areas and offered emergency connection to hundreds of thousands of people. Loon became an autonomous firm inside Alphabet in 2018, and the team co-founded the HAPS Alliance in 2020, with the goal of accelerating stratospheric innovation and connectivity activities. Loon, in collaboration with partners, will provide the world’s first internet-via-balloon service to people in underserved areas of Kenya in 2020.

Design

Building a balloon that lasts.

The Loon team set an ambitious goal: create a balloon that could endure hundreds of days in the severe conditions of the stratosphere, where winds can exceed 100 km/h and temperatures may plunge below -90 degrees Celsius — all while providing continuous communication. The crew spent years perfecting their ideas before setting a record with a balloon that soared for more than 300 days before crashing to Earth.

Launching the balloons

While developing and improving its balloons, the crew was also concerned with another major issue: how to get them into the air consistently, safely, and fast. To do this, the crew created and customised auto launchers known as Chicken Little and Big Bird. These massive cranes were capable of filling and deploying a balloon into the stratosphere every 30 minutes, well above aeroplanes, birds, and the weather.

Sailing the stratosphere

While developing and improving its balloons, the crew was also concerned with another major issue: how to get them into the air consistently, safely, and fast. To do this, the crew created and customised auto launchers known as Chicken Little and Big Bird. These massive cranes were capable of filling and deploying a balloon into the stratosphere every 30 minutes, well above aeroplanes, birds, and the weather.

Loon employed powerful prediction methods to build interactive maps of the sky in order to discover useful wind patterns. These maps enabled the team to calculate wind speed and direction at various heights, times, and places. The researchers then created intelligent algorithms to assist in determining the most efficient flying paths through the varied wind layers. With the help of these algorithms, the balloons may ride the winds for thousands of kilometres to a desired position and then remain concentrated around those locations to provide steady connectivity below.

The loon balloon: Delivering connectivity from the stratosphere

  • Rough Conditions

Temperature variations of 150°C were experienced by balloons while in the stratosphere, with temperatures falling as low as -90°C.

  • Scale

Each tennis-court-sized polyethylene balloon was designed to last hundreds of days in the severe conditions of the stratosphere.

  • Altitude Control

Changing the airflow into a smaller inner balloon known as the ballonet would cause a balloon to change height and direction by collecting a new wind current.

Expanding internet coverage: The Loon communication system

  • Solar Panel

During the day, solar panels powered the communications equipment and charged onboard batteries for nocturnal operation.

  • Flight Avionics

The technological brains that controlled and directed the balloon were housed in the avionics system.

  • Parachute

A parachute on board allowed for a controlled fall and a safe landing.

  • Communications Payload

A high-speed internet signal was carried over the balloon network and to people below using transceivers and antennas.

Today

Sharing Loon’s lessons with the world.

Despite Loon’s amazing technological development, the route to commercial viability proved considerably longer and riskier than anticipated, and the voyage ended in 2021. The Loon Collection – a compendium of Loon’s technological, operational, and scientific insights — was published to promote continue stratospheric research and innovation. Flight data from all 2,100 Loon flights, including sensor data and electrical measurements, are included in the collection for scientific and climatic study.

In some project like Project Taara, Loon’s technology is being used such as high-bandwidth optical communication which were initially used in Loon project. Loon distributed a number of stratospheric ballooning and networking patents to partners working in adjacent sectors to encourage continuous innovation in the High-Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) communications market. Loon has made a non-assertion agreement for the unrestricted use of over 200 additional patents pertaining to launching, navigation, fleet management, and other topics.

For future exploration in the sky also to keep the stratospheric research and innovation aloft are encouraged by loon’s resources just like how loon’s technology had found on the pioneering work of others.

Verily

Inventing new technologies and services to help people live healthier life.

Introduction

This group is working to improve medical technology by creating prototypes for smart contact lenses that can accurately measure biological markers in our eyes, nanotechnology that can potentially identify and latch onto cancer cells, wearables that can tell when those nanoparticles find the cells, and eating utensils that can help users with hand tremors or limited mobility.

Challenge

Even though the human body and brain remains as a mystery, creating inherent limits for health care.

Beginning of 2012, X invested in a number of initiatives with the potential to revolutionise our knowledge, identification, and management of illnesses. They were driven by a shared insight: technical advancements like as machine learning, sensor downsizing, and wearable devices were likely to lead to breakthroughs that may one day assist health practitioners be more proactive in illness treatment. Originally known as Google Life Sciences, this group of initiatives migrated from X in 2015 to become Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences.

Verily is using technology and data science to illnesses and other global health issues that are impeding people from living better, happier lives.

Journey

Smart contact lenses, stabilizing utensils, and beyond.

Early illness detection is one of the most intriguing possibilities at the junction of technology, laboratory research, and medicine. The Verily team had an intuition that future medical discoveries will be driven by multidisciplinary teams that merged knowledge from biology to electrical engineering, chemistry to computer science, physics to materials design. These teams also possessed a wealth of technical knowledge and extensive experience running laboratories, developing diagnostic tools, and working in clinical settings. The goal was to act as an R&D lab for the life sciences business, bridging the gap between “Is it possible?” and “Yes, it’s conceivable.”

X’s early aim was on building smaller, smarter, non-invasive devices that may greatly simplify the monitoring and measuring of biomarkers and other health signals. One study employing tiny electronics (small chips and sensors the size of glitter) resulted in the development of a smart contact lens prototype capable of providing reliable readings of biological markers in the human eye. This study has now been expanded in conjunction with Alcon, Novartis’s eye care subsidiary.

Another X team proposed that microscopic technologies embedded within the body may be used to identify illnesses sooner. They hypothesised that nanoparticles circulating in the blood might be designed to discover and adhere to specific types of cells (such as circulating malignant tumour cells), and that a bracelet-like device worn on the outside of the body could detect and quantify the nanoparticles that reached their targets. The team at X created prototypes and conducted promising tests to generate, design, and manipulate these nanoparticles.

The team also developed on Lift ware, a set of feeding aids for those who have hand tremors or restricted hand and arm mobility. Hand motion is detected by programmed sensors, and a small onboard computer electrically maintains the utensil and food level regardless of how the user’s hand or arm twists, bends, or moves suddenly. The scientists hoped that this fundamental technology may one day be transformed into a gadget that would assist doctors in more accurately monitoring symptoms.

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