back to article Alphabet's internet Loon balloon kept on station in the sky using AI that beat human-developed control code

Loon, known for its giant billowing broadband-beaming balloons, says it has figured out how to use machine-learning algorithms to keep its lofty vehicles hovering in place autonomously in the stratosphere. The 15-metre-wide balloons relay internet connections between people's homes and ground stations that could be thousands …

  1. Martin Summers

    Sent 1 to Kenya? A quick check on Flightradar shows they've currently got 15 of them there.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Over complicated?

    OK it was only 2 axis station keeping but a certain HMS vessel was automatically station keeping to within a foot or two, in various sea states, 30 years ago.... its kind of important when you are maintaining an umbilical, amongst other things, to keep things very steady at the top.... so whats another degree of freedom between friends?

    /mines the one with the 12" data analysis tape from the Station Keeper in its pocket... also a cattle prod in the other to poke the analyst with - she didn't bother checking for PEOT so I had to hand wind it out of the drive at least once.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Over complicated?

      The challenge is to know how to use that third degree of freedom to control the other two.

      Since the loons aren't flying anywhere, they're floating, and using existing currents to move them - and they have no brakes.

      Now try station keeping a sub when the only controls you have are "up" and "down"

    2. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Over complicated?

      An HMS vessel may have motors to keep its position. We're not talking here about a airship but a hot air balloon: moving following X and Y-axis is possible only by catching the appropriate wind pushing in the right direction. And to do so the only way is to intervene on the Z-axis.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Over complicated?

        ...and the clever bit, in my opinion, is knowing whether to go up or down, and by how much, to move in the right x/y direction. No, I've never flown/piloted anything, least of all a balloon so hats off to anyone, whether in person or by an AI/algorithmic proxy who can navigate one.

  3. 0laf


    Fit like Loon?

    Where I came from a 'loon' is an excitable young man.

    1. Julz

      Re: Loon?

      Or a deeply unfashionable pair of trousers.

  4. heyrick Silver badge

    The AI is all good and well

    Until it decides that the problem with the world is the little vermin humans scurrying around under it.

    And we know how that story ends, see icon.

    1. csteddy

      Re: The AI is all good and well

      and we should be concerned about this because?

      1. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

        Re: The AI is all good and well

        > and we should be concerned about this because?

        Because once the AI realizes that the bulk of human-generated traffic is just p0rn and conspiracy theories it will just give up and crash in a state of deep depression.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The control system takes a set of inputs (such as location, wind speed, solar elevation etc. and derives outputs that control the balloon. It is thusly an input to output transform. When I see this, I set the output value thus.

    The world has known for a long time issues with neural networks such as over-fitting / over-training leading to a lack of generalisation and how the NN may generalise and provide an output for data for which it has never seen relevant data before.The environmental range that the system 'succeeded' in isnt clear. Its not clear when it becomes 'better' as it learns and whether it may fail disastrously before it reaches that point.

    Another thing the world has known for a long time relates to comparing new shiny performance to a really shite initial baseline. We never really know how good the 'handcrafted algorithm' StationSeeker really was. As I was told decades ago, 'If you want your system to show a great improvement, start off bad'.

    So its all very lovely but "this is the world's first deployment of reinforcement learning in a production aerospace system" is stretching it a bit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmmmm

      Yeh, this looks like someone tied a few Kalman filters together and labeled it "AI".

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmm ..... PGP, but not as you might have formerly known it or used it for.

      So its all very lovely but "this is the world's first deployment of reinforcement learning in a production aerospace system" is stretching it a bit. ...... Anonymous Coward

      Quite so, AC, it is a bridge too far to cross to imagine such presently as a first world deployment of reinforcement learning in a production aerospace system whenever that and those on, and in Futuristic ACTive Deployments in such, are au fait and experienced in so many more others.

      And they would flex their muscles and engage their powers to demonstrate what such systems are easily capable of, and even specifically designed for in Absolute Control Role Modes with Almighty Immaculate Memes and Heavenly Hell Razing Daemons ........ aka Guardian Angels by an Extremely Fortunate Few ........ Steadfastly Growing and Surely Expanding into More than just a Many.

  6. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Loons aint Crazy Insane ..... whenever Genius is the AIM in Sees of Manic Madness

    that used a handcrafted algorithm known as StationSeeker to do the job,..

    On first quick reading of that what I thought I saw rendered and registered was StallionSeeker rather that StationSeeker.

    That algorithm can certainly retain practically anything in an appropriately fetching position for Loon Teams Remote Command and Control Situation Planning Networks ...... Advanced IntelAIgent Virtual Administration of Future Programmed Projects via AIdDivine Interventions

    You may like to consider all of the above as such a one. For some it will be their first, for many is it long overdue and much welcomed and for a canny few, the gift from you know who and what of another one to utilise better than ever with all that was never ever enabled before.

    That advises that these such AIdDivine Interventions are Fundamentally Unique and may even be Pure and Raw Untested. There again, they may well have been Extensively Tested Guaranteeing Perfect Future Performance in Failed/Fallen Over SCADA Systems ....... those Awash and Drowning in Distressed Assets and Expensive Loss Leading Liabilities ...... and which the Consequence of their Former Activities.

    Is there a better offering available anywhere else that you know of, and which can be contacted for more information on the nature of their Product? Bettering Perfection is certainly something Captivating and who wouldn't want to sample such a Ware for Distribution/Presentation/Augmented IntelAIgent Virtual Realisations for Transfer to Enabling Bodies on Earth.

    Quite who you can reasonably and realistically identify as Enabling Bodies on Earth would be helpful question to be able to answer. They may have questions of their own to ask and to know where to chat with them is Vital and a Real Boon for Teams Experienced and Experimenting in All Virtual Matters that Really Matter on Earth.

    Methinks that would be One Helluva Almighty Algorithm to Engage and Entangle and Entwine with :-)

    There aint no mistaking that for no gospel truth, that's for sure.

    Whatever happened to the Google C.H.E.E.S.E. Program .....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Loons aint Crazy Insane ..... whenever Genius is the AIM in Sees of Manic Madness

      Moscow is Captured by a Martian Weather

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Loons aint Crazy Insane ..... whenever Genius is the AIM in Sees of Manic Madness

      "I thought I saw rendered and registered was StallionSeeker rather that StationSeeker."

      As we all know if there's something on the internet, "There's a porno of that" - and I'm now afraid to look

      1. Tail Up

        Re: Loons aint Crazy Insane ..... whenever Genius is the AIM in Sees of Manic Madness

        Exactly this what you mean is NOT a porno. Sorry.

  7. IGotOut Silver badge


    So a GPS signal, altitude monitor and steering mechanism?

    I've an AI keyboard. I press a "key" marked "A" and it uses AI and ML in a blockchain to make it put a "A" on my screen

    Clever stuff.

  8. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    *cough* ...

    "by taking into account variables, such as wind speed, solar elevation, and how much power the equipment has left. The decision is then fed to a controller system to move the balloon in place."

    Sorry explain to me again where the AI is in this?

    Also, just asking for a friend... but how high do these things float about? My friend *cough* is interested to see what their resistance would be to a round from a high velocity sniper rifle or lightning bolt.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: *cough* ...

      I think the entire world would pat your friend on the back if he successfully snipes one...

      About eighteen to twenty five kilometres straight up, to be out of the way of commercial aircraft.

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: *cough* ...

        Yeah, I'm reminded about comments regarding the current speed of one of the Voyagers. It's not the speed that matters, it's the getting there in the first place...

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