Alphabet’s Project Loon takes to the skies over a devastated Puerto Rico on Friday, delivering limited mobile Internet service.
With the aftermath of hurricane Maria fresh on the minds for the residents of Puerto Rico, life is still far from being ordinary.
We’ve seen heartbreaking stories of devastation and destruction on a scale that many of us couldn’t fathom experiencing in our lifetime.
Hurricane Maria is responsible for claiming roughly 50 lives in the country.
It has crippled the infrastructure of the tiny island and has helped foster life-threatening bacteria which has claimed the life of a resident last week.
Some Puerto Ricans are still without clean drinking water to cook and bathe with.
It’s hard to say how long a full recovery will take as families are still trying to cope with their losses.
Project Loon Over Puerto Rico
These high altitude balloons are designed to bring Internet access to remote areas of the world by floating in the stratosphere.
Since 2013, Google began a pilot program in New Zealand with about 30 ballons to test the concept out.
Through machine learning and advanced algorithms, they can stay airborne for more than 100 days providing Internet access.
Working with the Government of Puerto Rico, the FCC, FAA, FEMA, and AT&T, basic communication is now available to some 60 percent of the island.
We’ve never deployed Project Loon connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace, and we’re grateful for the support of AT&T and the many other partners and organizations that have made this possible.
Also, the following companies are providing use of their spectrum to help facilitate the project:
- High Tech Communications Services Inc.
- MilkyWay Communications LLC
- North Sight Communications Inc.
- PVD Spectrum Holding Company LLC
- Space Data Spectrum Holdings LLC
- Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority/PREPA Networks LLC
- Sensus Spectrum LLC
- Spok Inc.
These solar-powered ballons with LTE connectivity are called HBAL199 and HBAL237.
They operate at over 60.000 feet, where roughly 20% of the atmosphere’s mass is.
Since they need the sun to provide services to the people on the ground, Internet access is only available in the day
Still, it’s better than nothing, and with many people still suffering the after-effects of Maria, sending a quick text or email can potentially mean the difference between life and death especially for emergency situations.
The project is still in the experimental stage, so naturally, there is a sense of nervousness among researchers.
Continued success depends on the collective efforts of the companies involved.
It’s hard to say how long this disaster cleanup effort will last with a country that has had power supply issues and high debt.
But at least communication with the outside world is still possible with services such as Project Loon.
Billionaire entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Richard Branson are also wanting to lend a helping hand to the Carribean.
Musk wants to use his solar power and battery technology to bring clean energy to the island.
Branson is setting up a green energy fund to help Caribbean countries convert to clean energy.
It’s a tall order, even for these two titans of the corporate world with nearly unlimited resources at their disposal.
But anything is possible, and all it just takes is one person with an idea and a passion to make things better for the world.