back to article Inside Project Loon – Google's megaplan to build a global internet

Google's I/O developer conference isn't just about code – the Chocolate Factory has many schemes and attendees have been drawn to a large balloon hovering in a corner of the conference venue. The balloon is an example of Project Loon, Google's plan to loft thousands of balloons equipped with LTE antennae that will bring …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Build your own infrastructure, otherwise Google will own your ass.

  2. gnufrontier

    Pulling money out of thin air

    The real business of Google and Facebook is surveillance and there are places that are still not under their watchful eyes There are those who will always pay money to know what is being seen.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Pulling money out of thin air


      Keeping in mind what happened with the Wi-Fi snooping that happened with Street View, what are the chances of hi-resolution down pointing cameras being "unintentionally installed and activated" in these units. It gives them their own Earth observation platform to supplement data provided by satellite imagery providers

  3. jzl


    I know it's the second-most abundant element, but we don't live on Jupiter and it's a small and shrinking resource down here.

    They should really be using hydrogen.

    1. jzl

      Re: Helium

      Just spent some time reading around the subject. Apparently they're testinf hydrogen as a lifting gas.

    2. David Roberts

      Re: Helium

      From a position of profound ignorance, when the balloon goes pop does that not recycle the helium?

      Or are the balloons shifting it up in the atmosphere and allowing it to escape?

      1. Andy A

        Re: Helium

        The gas has been shifted from ground level to several miles up. Once the balloon pops, it's not going to be easy to grab it for reuse.

        It's pretty hard to come by on earth. It was first detected in the sun, hence its name.

        The US used to have a strategic reserve of a few years' supply, but everyone seems to be coming up with fresh uses these days, filling hard drives for example.

        Yes, you can make more, but the most anyone has made in one go is a few ounces, and the neighbours complained about the noise, amongst other things.

        Hydrogen is a LOT easier to get hold of, and relatively safe now more people have given up smoking.

      2. Tim99 Silver badge

        Re: Helium

        @David Roberts

        Most of the helium that we use comes from natural gas wells, where much of it was formed as alpha particles from radioactive decay within the Earth. Helium is a very light molecule (roughly 7 times less dense than air) and smaller than the main nitrogen and oxygen components of air. Each helium molecule has an average velocity greater than most of the other molecules in the atmosphere.

        Molecules can travel to the top of the atmosphere relatively quickly, and if they are light enough, will escape from the Earth's gravity. (It is a lot more complicated than that!). A helpful(?) link for some of the theory: Wikipedia.

      3. jzl

        Re: Helium

        Helium atoms travel faster than escape velocity, so giving them a free lift to 60,000 feet is only helping that. Also, the concentration in the atmosphere is so incredibly tiny that it's impossible to extract it commercially. There are just three or four wells in world where helium exists in quantities suitable for extraction.

        Helium scarcity is one of the unsung scare stories of our time.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Helium

          It's not impossible to extract helium from the air, just very inefficient.

          Exeter Uni (for example) have their own gas liquefying plant out the back of the physics department, in order to produce the liquid helium and nitrogen for their MRI machines. Of course, this produces much, much more liquid nitrogen than anything else, so there was always a ready supply for student high-jinks :)

          1. jzl

            Re: Helium

            "impossible to extract commercially".

            I know you can extract it.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Speaking of Balloons

    Where's LOHAN these days?

  5. 27escape

    Can we have some for Wales and Scotland please

    Surely the telcos want to get on board and properly give 100% area coverage rather than 95% people coverage

  6. David Roberts

    Surfing the pressure gradients

    The coolest part is the claim that the balloons can maintain station by moving up and down in the atmosphere.

    Now trying to think of another commercial or a sporting use.

    I wonder how large an area counts as "maintaining station"?

    1. kmac499

      Re: Surfing the pressure gradients

      Maintaining station by surfing ? I haven't got a clue how that would work to overcome prevailing jet streams.

      I wonder how they are planning to overcome the fact that 70% of the planet is ocean, which assuming an even distribution* of loons means 2/3rds of them will be out of sight of potentail customers. Or are they palnning some huge mesh style network.

      * (Yeah I know the %age ocean coverage in the northern hemisphere is much lower. but it's still got to be about 50%)

      1. jzl

        Re: Surfing the pressure gradients

        They are planning a mesh network, but they've had a lot of success with keeping the balloons on station.

        I'll see your hypothetical problems, and raise you the fact that they have already solved them.

  7. Dan 55 Silver badge

    That was a pretty uncritical piece

    The parachute didn't really work here.

  8. Bob H

    Sorry Google, Facebook has it right with Aquila. Your balloons are just hot air.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Doesn't give Google much of a payback"?

    Driving traffic to their search engine so they can shift ads to them and collect data on them to sell is their entire business model. They wouldn't be doing this if they didn't think it was going to pay for itself eventually.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Doesn't give Google much of a payback"?

      Replce Google/Alphabet with 'Samaritan'** and you have the answer to what they are aiming for.

      ** Samaritan is the evil AI in 'Person of Interest'.

    2. NotBob

      Re: "Doesn't give Google much of a payback"?

      Bets on whether or not they eventually try adding ads to requested sites like others have tried before

  10. Alister

    Google are the New Seekers

    and they should re-release the song:


    I'd like to teach the world to ping

    In perfect harmony

    I'd like to let them browse the net

    and use this company


    I'd like to see the world for once

    All searching through one site

    And use their browsing history

    to place ads in their sight.

  11. monty75

    Turns out you can track the Loons on Flightradar24 - if that's something that appeals to you

  12. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    What does a line cover?

    LTE antennas capable of covering around 80 kilometers on the ground

    Eh? Covering around 80 square kilometers? a radius (or diameter) of 80 km? A herd of 80 or so wild kilometers on the hoof? What is this claim supposed to mean?

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