Google's plan to stream internet from balloons now seems 100x more likely thanks to AI breakthrough

Google’s Project Loon may sound loony on paper, but it’s seeming less and less loony as time goes by.

Google’s Project Loon may sound loony on paper, but it’s seeming less and less loony as time goes by. In fact, the latest update from the project’s team suggest that Project Loon could become a reality much sooner than anyone expects.

Project Loon intends to bring internet connectivity to internet-less areas via hot air balloons in the sky. The idea is that clusters of these balloons will hover over an area that needs internet and beam it down.

In practice, this was turning out to be difficult. Keeping the balloons in one place, for example, was proving to be very hard. Primarily as a result of this, Project Loon’s engineers determined that they’d need 200-300 balloons to cover a particular area. Their latest breakthrough, however, brings that number down to 20 or 30. This say the engineers, will result in a 100x reduction in the number of balloons needed.

As Google explains, the earlier model relied on balloons floating in the jet stream in the atmosphere. This consists of winds moving in different directions at varying speeds depending on altitude. The original design would use these winds to move balloons around and to put them in a specific spot. The updated system used AI and machine learning techniques to figure out how to command clusters of balloons.

Now, engineers will be able to send an entire cluster of balloons to a particular region and provide internet access, and all of this autonomously.

This clustering technique is what reduces the number of balloons as it concentrates the numbers at a given location. Fewer balloons will need to remain in transit.

An artificial intelligence (AI) system manages navigation and helps set routes for the balloons.

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