Photo of the Week: Google Launches Internet Balloons in New Zealand

Under "Project Loon," the company hopes to solve the digital divide using balloon-powered Internet access.

by / June 18, 2013
As the sun rises in New Zealand, the Project Loon team prepares the solar panels, electronics and balloon envelopes for launch. Google/Loon Rising

Despite the Internet being a daily part of many people's lives, two out of every three people on earth still lack a fast, affordable Internet connection -- and as Google notes in its blog, this problem is far from being solved. 

That's why the company has launched Project Loon -- balloon-powered Internet for everyone. Google hopes to solve the cost and geographic challenges to Internet connectivity by building a ring of balloons that fly around the globe on the stratospheric winds, providing Internet access to the earth below, according to the company's blog.

And last week, Google got a start on its ambitious project by embarking on a pilot program in New Zealand's Canterbury area in which 50 testers will try to connect to the 30 launched balloons -- a test the company hopes will teach it a lot to ultimately help improve the technology and balloon design. 

"It’s very early days, but we’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster," wrote Project Lead Mike Cassidy on Google's blog. "As a result, we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters. The idea may sound a bit crazy — and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon — but there’s solid science behind it."

And as IT World notes, the balloons passing over New Zealand will eventually pass over Africa and South America, and Google's network in the sky will "bring the technologies of access to everyone on the planet."