Just over a year ago, Google announced an ambitious plan to bring an Internet connection to remote areas of the world traditional infrastructure–cables, towers, and what have you–could not easily reach. The plan was to launch a fleet of solar-powered “smart” balloons into the sky to blanket unwired regions with connectivity.
Project Loon, as it was called, would have these balloons constantly beaming data back and forth to one another, communicating to find the most optimal position with which to triangulate. Each lightweight balloon was designed to algorithmically account for wind patterns, and each would fly high enough in the atmosphere to avoid traditional air traffic like airplanes.
Since it first launched balloons on June 16, 2013 in New Zealand, our reigning Most Innovative Company has expanded Project Loon’s small army of flying Wi-Fi stations. In addition to balloons, Google has also purportedly bought a company specializing in solar-powered drones and, more recently, a firm specializing in low-orbit satellites.
Google isn’t alone. Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, which was announced in March, has a similar overarching goal to help bring Internet access to millions of people without it, using weather balloons and drones–sparking, perhaps, a new arms race for the sky.
In the video above, we take a look inside Google X’s labs to learn how the first few Project Loon prototypes were developed, built, and launched into the clouds. Apparently, a styrofoam beer cooler was involved.