Alphabet's plan to deliver internet connectivity to remote areas of the world via giant balloons may be getting closer to reality. Astro Teller, who heads the team at the Alphabet unit X in charge of "moonshot" projects, recently announced that advancements in the machine learning software for controlling the navigational bath of the balloons, means they will be able to blanket a particular area of the world with connectivity using far less balloons and reducing deployment costs by 90%.
Originally, the company thought Project Loon would require hundreds of balloons floating across the globe. But in recent experiments, using machine-learning techniques able to detect subtle patterns in atmospheric conditions, engineers figured out how to reliably cluster balloons in teams over a particular region in Peru, some of them for as long as three months. Now balloons can adjust how they fly as needed using artificial intelligence software instead of a set navigation plan.
“The reason this is so exciting is we can now run an experiment and try to give services in particular places of the world with 10 or 20 or 30 balloons, not with 200 or 300 or 400 balloons,” Teller said.
Loon eventually plans to earn revenue from telecom operators that want to extend their reach to remote areas in a cost effective manner. The development is a step in the right direction for Project Loon to become a commercially viable option for local internet providers.
“We’ll be able to put together a Loon network over a particular region in weeks not months, and it would be a lot less work to launch and manage,” Teller wrote in a blog post.
There’s still a lot of testing ahead. Teller said Loon is one of the more mature projects at X and that it would be a natural state to graduate into its own company, but there are no plans for that yet.