Twenty kilometres up, slung under balloons from the same company that helped Felix Baumgartner jump from the edge of space last year, a payload of solar panels and wireless antennas is helping Google’s Project Loon bring wireless internet access to the most remote parts of the world. The ultimate goal is to connect the two-thirds of the world’s population that currently has no internet access.
Currently being trialled in New Zealand, each balloon delivers a coverage area of 1250 square kilometres as it floats overhead. New Zealanders who want to access the service must have a special antenna fitted to their house that connects to the closest balloon. The signal is then bounced from balloon to balloon, until it joins the internet back on the ground. Solar panels power the balloons’ antennas and communications equipment, storing energy in batteries to keep them working through the night.
Mariya Zheleva, who works on wireless networks for remote developing regions, says the project is inspiring: “I get very excited about solutions like this one that try to escape the conventional understanding for communication infrastructure.”