Published: Thu, October 12, 2017
Tech | By Dwayne Harmon

'Project Loon' Balloon Internet Project by Google Cleared for Puerto Rico Launch

'Project Loon' Balloon Internet Project by Google Cleared for Puerto Rico Launch

Google calls it "Project Loon" and has been running global trials in areas with challenging geographies and limited fiber networks.

Alphabet Inc., which controls Google, obtained authorization from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deploy the devices - developed from 2013 as part of a project known as "Loon".

"That's why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island". By contrast, Google had already been testing in Peru when floods hit, so it was able to partner with Telefonica to get its system up and running in weeks. The balloons are positioned in the air above where commercial aircraft typically fly and can remain airborne for several months.

In late September, Tesla said it was sending hundreds of batteries that can store power generated by solar panels to Puerto Rico to provide emergency help in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Almost 82 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico and 57 percent in the US Virgin Islands are out of service, the FCC said in its daily damage report yesterday.

"The objective of the STA (Special Temporary Authority) is to support licensed mobile carriers' restoration of limited communications capability in areas of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria", reads the official certification. In almost all counties in Puerto Rico, more than 75 percent of cell sites are not working, and "22 out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100 percent of their cell sites out of service".

"Loon balloons float 20km up in the stratosphere and so have the potential to extend connectivity to where it's needed regardless of what's happening below", Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth wrote at the time.

The parent company of Google received the green light on Friday to provide emergency cellular service to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico using balloons.

The helium balloons are expected to deliver emergency LTE cellular reception to allow residents and local governments to contact friends and family, coordinate relief and restoration efforts, and reestablish communication with the outside world.

Updates to Loon's navigational system had applied machine learning techniques to the flight data collected for the goal of predicting wind directions at different altitudes.

A similar project using drones was closed down in 2016.

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