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Google-Linked Balloon Project to Provide Cell Service Will Close


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A Loon launch site in Nevada.

Loon's giant helium balloons, made from sheets of polyethylene, are the size of tennis courts. They were powered by solar panels and navigated by flight control software that used artificial intelligence to drift efficiently in the stratosphere. While up in the air, they act as floating cell towers, transmitting Internet signals to ground stations and personal devices.

Credit: Loon LLC/Associated Press

Google's parent company Alphabet is shutting down Loon, a high-profile subsidiary spun out from its research labs that used high-altitude helium balloons to deliver cellular connectivity from the stratosphere.

Nearly a decade after it began the project, Alphabet said on Thursday that it pulled the plug on Loon because it did not see a way to reduce costs to create a sustainable business. Along with the self-driving car unit Waymo, Loon was one of the most hyped "moonshot" technology projects to emerge from Alphabet's research lab, X.

"The road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped. So we've made the difficult decision to close down Loon," Astro Teller, who heads X, wrote in a blog post. Alphabet said it expected to wind down operations in "the coming months" with the hope of finding other positions for Loon employees at Alphabet.

The idea behind Loon was to bring cellular connectivity to remote parts of the world where building a traditional mobile network would be too difficult and too costly. Alphabet promoted the technology as a potentially promising way to bring internet connectivity to not just the "next billion" consumers but the "last billion."

 

From The New York Times
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