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Most of you may have been following this new prototype being developed and deployed by Google. I am talking about project Loon, an idea conceived by Google to help connect the few billion friends around the world who are still deprived of internet benefits. The idea at first may spell like fiction, but this one is for real. Already, some pilot projects are on the way, in New Zealand. Let us watch out for this to spread its wings in the coming months and years!
Anyone remember the old Motorola/Iridium initiative? It scooped and failed for many a reasons, but the idea that time was to have the entire world voice connected, but project Loon is a bit more than that in intention, technology and economic viability. Besides, Loon is backed by a highly successful technology driven company. The goal in itself is to have pretty much every corner of the world to stay connected by internet, the holy grail of global networking. Whereas, Iridium needed sophisticated lower orbit satellites, project Loon can get the job done through a set of balloons equipped with wireless communication technologies. The number of balloons may be much larger than the number 66 or 70 satellites, but the latter is a lot less expensive and green than the failed initiative!
So what goes into the making of project Loon? Logistic wise it needs deployment of enough number of helium powered balloons into the sky, the stratosphere layer of earth atmosphere to be precise. Why stratosphere? Because, the balloons will make use of the wind flow that prevail at stratosphere layers to steer and position it around a certain location locked to ground. The balloons are not quite stationary; they instead will move around, but on the average a certain number of balloons will stay put up in location range to provide a reasonable coverage for any given location. All the balloons are equipped with enough circuitry to perform necessary wireless communication networking jobs. The balloons are all the time connected (wireless that is) to neighboring balloons and some of them will talk to an available ground station terminals through which it will establish connection to the internet backbone and thus to rest of the connected world!
The balloons may have varying shapes and orientation. The shape of the balloon and the wind pattern may come into the equation to steer them and stay around (or move around the earth) at the atmosphere. They may, not only move around the earth, but also can potentially move up and down in the stratosphere layers. Each of these balloons are of approximately 15 meters in diameter which will float at about 20 km altitude from earth surface. For record, this height is more than double the distance where we can spot the farthest cloud or for that matter the highest altitude where airplanes fly! The task involves gyration, ballon steering and of course quite a lot of wireless mesh networking as well as co-ordination prospects. At the user side, you will have specialized antenna (or antennas, depending on whether MIMO comes in) to talk to one of the balloons above your location and we are all set to go. When fully operational, everything else will be transparent! Pretty much the energy for operation at balloons all will come from solar energy. The other natural resource used is wind. Both are green and free and almost universal!
I am very excited about the prospect of this coming off in full force in the near future. On the beneficiary side, one it will help reaching the far corners of our planet. More than that this may well serve as an inexpensive way for many billion folks to reap the benefits of internet and staying connected. Of all, the children of a lesser world can as well get to bite a share of a better world. Imagine a remote village school in Burundi or Bangladesh getting access to better educational tools through internet! Wouldn’t that be a beautiful? Corporations will make money, but when less privileged ones also benefit, that is something to cheer. In the end a model will sustain and everyone can have a share, monetary or otherwise.
In a lighter vein, what is the main downside of this everywhere connectedness? Here is a potential spoilsport scenario! You will agree with me here:-)
One of my favorite cell phone app till date is the navigation utility Waze. The only downside that I’ve noticed is its hunger for power (It drains the phone battery in no time), but GPS in general hog battery anyway. In a car with some charging unit, it is not a killer drawback, but it is a negative thing anyway. Since this app has such nice user friendliness, coupled with ability to provide almost real time side information (through user assistance and online feeds) such as traffic situations, presence of police etc., makes this such a handy tool on the move. I was almost contemplating that this will be bought over by Google or a Facebook. Now what? It didn’t take too long! Waze is gobbled by Google, for a reported billion odd USD. I like Google maps too. Now, we have a chance to have all in one! Hopefully, a better one!
One of the better ads, I have seen off late (Google search app). I couldn’t stop blushing when the kid says “You are so smart, dad!” and the dad is prepared for more and asks “did I ever tell you about Jupiter”!