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Alphabet's Project Loon Delivers Internet To 100,000 People In Puerto Rico (engadget.com) 34

Google announced that its Project Loon internet balloons have delivered internet service to over 100,000 Puerto Ricans who were knocked offline by Hurricane Maria. Engadget reports: It's not a total success, which isn't to be expected after Puerto Ricans' communications infrastructure suffered so much damage. But the team was able to work with AT&T and T-Mobile to get "communication and internet activities like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE enabled phones," head of Project Loon Alastair Westgarth wrote in a blog post. The team launched their balloons from Nevada and used machine learning algorithms to direct them over Puerto Rico, where they've been relaying internet from working ground networks over to users in unconnected areas. In the post, Westgarth noted that Project Loon has never fired up internet from scratch this rapidly, and will improve their ability to keep balloons in place (and deliver sustained connectivity) as they become familiar with the air currents.

Alphabet's Project Loon Delivers Internet To 100,000 People In Puerto Rico

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  • Ignorance (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Is it just marketing at this point or is machine learning really required for something like this?

    • Re:Ignorance (Score:5, Informative)

      by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @05:49AM (#55524747)

      Loon balloons navigate by changing their altitude to reach winds that are going in the right direction. They know what the wind directions are by modeling the atmosphere in the 18 to 25km range. It's rather ingenious.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      The balloons are maneuvered by adjusting their altitude in the stratosphere to float to a wind layer after identifying the wind layer with the desired speed and direction using wind data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Users of the service connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal travels through the balloon network from balloon to balloon, then to a ground-based station connected to an Internet service provider (ISP), then onto the global Internet.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      Project Loon is Google's pursuit to deploy a high-altitude balloon network operating in the stratosphere, at altitudes between 18 km and 25 km. Google asserts that this particular layer of the stratosphere is advantageous because of its relatively low wind speeds (e.g., wind speeds between 5 and 20 mph / 10 to 30 km/h) and minimal turbulence. Moreover, Google claims that it can model, with reasonable accuracy, the seasonal, longitudinal, and latitudinal variations in wind speeds within the 18-25 km stratospheric layer.

      Given a reasonably accurate model of wind speeds within the 18-25 km band, Google claims that it can control the latitudinal and longitudinal position of high-altitude balloons by adjusting only the balloon's altitude. By adjusting the volume and density of the gas (e.g., helium, hydrogen, or another lighter-than-air compound) in the balloon, the balloon's variable buoyancy system is able to control the balloon's altitude

      Then again the Japanese were able to direct fire balloons through the stratosphere all the way to the US with no computational power at all in WWII

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      The balloons didn't do any real damage to the US, but the Americans were worried about biological or chemical weapons being used in the future. So they covered up the fact that the balloons were successfully reaching the US mainland.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      The bombs caused little damage, but their potential for destruction and fires was large. The bombs also had a potential psychological effect on the American people. The U.S. strategy was to keep the Japanese from knowing of the balloon bombs' effectiveness.

      In 1945 Newsweek ran an article titled "Balloon Mystery" in their January 1 issue, and a similar story appeared in a newspaper the next day.

      The Office of Censorship then sent a message to newspapers and radio stations to ask them to make no mention of balloons and balloon-bomb incidents. They did not want the enemy to get the idea that the balloons might be effective weapons or to have the American people start panicking. Cooperating with the desires of the government, the press did not publish any balloon bomb incidents. Perhaps as a result, the Japanese only learned of one bomb's reaching Wyoming, landing and failing to explode, so they stopped the launches after less than six months.

      The press blackout in the U.S. was lifted after the first deaths to ensure that the public was warned, though public knowledge of the threat could have possibly prevented it.

      Prior restraint has its uses, even in the USA.

      • In fairness, the Japanese balloon navigation was limited to maintaining a certain altitude range in order to stay within the recently discovered jet stream. Ingenious, but not really comparable to a balloon that's actually navigating using the different wind currents at different altitudes.

        On the other hand, it doesn't seem like there's any real need for machine learning either, except as a long-term cost-cutting strategy. Balloon navigation isn't exactly a high-stress, fast-reaction endeavor - I bet one

        • In fairness, the Japanese balloon navigation was limited to maintaining a certain altitude range in order to stay within the recently discovered jet stream. Ingenious, but not really comparable to a balloon that's actually navigating using the different wind currents at different altitudes.

          True.

          On the other hand, it doesn't seem like there's any real need for machine learning either, except as a long-term cost-cutting strategy. Balloon navigation isn't exactly a high-stress, fast-reaction endeavor - I bet one person sitting at a computer with a detailed wind-map could control at least several dozen.

          Machine learning is kinda cool. And I guess you can handwave it by saying the intent is to deploy hundreds or thousands of balloons, at which point being able to automate would be more cost effective than tens or hundreds of pilots.

          Another thing that's I like about it is that you could mount windspeed sensors and GPS on the balloons themselves. So they'd each sample wind speed and direction as they moved up and down. And you'd use those measurements to correct the model.

          I.e. a swarm of balloons could b

          • Indeed. And if you've got GPS (and I'd assume you must, if you're trying to use an independently sourced weather map), you hardly need windspeed sensors. After all balloons travel at windspeed and GPS can calculate your speed pretty accurately, while sensors would usually read zero except for gusts and shear speeds while transitioning between currents.

            That said, I could imagine gustiness data might be very useful for a sophisticated enough model. While we're at it though, it seems like temperature, pressu

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      Just be thankful they didn't replace the local currency with a blockchain!

  • roncansan (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm currently on San Juan Puerto Rico. I don't know a single person who have receive internet from project loom. To the the 100k, is unreal, just a way the project has field.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm currently on San Juan Puerto Rico. I don't know a single person who have receive internet from project loom. To the the 100k, is unreal, just a way the project has field.

      How would you know if your phone is connected to a balloon vs a tower? Maybe you posted via a balloon.

  • by darthsilun ( 3993753 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @06:37AM (#55524849)

    The balloons have been within range of 100K people.

    Not 100K people have actually used it. Or even been able to use it, if they even knew about it.

    • by ebrandsberg ( 75344 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @08:17AM (#55525197)

      I think the implication is that some AT&T and T-Mobile towers are online BECAUSE they were able to leverage Loon to connect, i.e. your cellphone itself wouldn't be working in areas without it.

  • They have to be loons to be providing internet access to people who don't even have electricity.

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