Google Brings Web Access to Remote Areas Using High-Altitude Balloons

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-06-17 Print this article Print
Internet Access

A Google+ page has also been set up to track the progress of the balloon project.

While the balloons are seen as a viable method of spreading Internet access, they do present some challenges, wrote Cassidy.

"Many projects have looked at high-altitude platforms to provide Internet access to fixed areas on the ground, but trying to stay in one place like this requires a system with major cost and complexity," he wrote. "So the idea we pursued was based on freeing the balloons and letting them sail freely on the winds. All we had to do was figure out how to control their path through the sky."

To do that, the project is using just wind and solar power, according to Cassidy. "We can move the balloons up or down to catch the winds we want them to travel in. That solution then led us to a new problem: how to manage a fleet of balloons sailing around the world so that each balloon is in the area you want it right when you need it. We're solving this with some complex algorithms and lots of computing power."

The balloons themselves are made of very thin plastic that's about 3 mils thick, according to Google. The balloon plastic is a superpressure vessel, which means its shape stays constant and doesn't expand like a mylar party balloon as more gas is placed inside. The balloons are 15m in diameter when fully inflated (the length of a small, light aircraft), but they do not inflate until they've reached float altitude in the stratosphere, according to Google.

Wind data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is presently used to predict potential flight pathways for the balloons.

In March, Google began a related trial project in South Africa to help bring Internet access to more residents in that developing nation using unused parts of the television spectrum called "white spaces." The South Africa project involves a trial with 10 schools in the Cape Town area that were slated to receive wireless broadband over a white space network.

Google began a white space trial in the United States in 2010 after two years of delays following its initial 2008 announcement of the effort.


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