Industryweek 7328 Project Loon

Not Such a Loony Idea: GoogleX Aims to Give Everybody on Earth Internet Access

Sept. 10, 2014
GoogleX's Project Loon aims to provide Internet access to the entire globe via a high-tech network of balloons.

Two out of every three people on Earth don’t have access to the Internet. Either they’re living in areas too remote for an Internet connection, they can’t afford it, or they’ve lost access to it due to natural disaster of some sort. Now imagine what the global marketplace would look like if those 4.5 billion people joined the community of Internet users.

In his capacity as director of Google X’s Project Loon, Mike Cassidy doesn’t have to imagine it anymore, since his team is attempting to do something about it.

As a featured speaker at the Material Handling & Logistics Conference hosted by Dematic, Cassidy offered an update to the skunkworks project announced with little fanfare a year ago. Project Loon is designed to use a network of polyethylene-based, solar- and battery-powered balloons somewhat resembling weather balloons. The balloons, which float far above commercial air space (at an average height of 20 km), carry antennas networked to other balloons as well as to Internet antennas on the ground.

The supply chain implications alone are enormous, Cassidy points out. “Project Loon offers a way to track every shipment, everywhere in the world.” And as even the remotest corners of the globe are able to tap into e-commerce, the ability to deliver products to those difficult-to-reach consumers will require investments in infrastructure and distribution networks.

Project Loon’s initial proof-of-concept pilot occurred a year ago in a remote area of New Zealand, using 30 balloons; today, according to Cassidy, Google has factories that can build one balloon per day. Total saturation of the world is years away, he admits, but Project Loon’s immediate target is to cover the southern hemisphere.

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