Project Loon: Stratospheric Balloons Are Connecting Hurricane Maria Victims In Puerto Rico

Delia Watkins
October 23, 2017

Alphabet Inc said several more balloons would be deployed in the coming days to allow better communications in the hurricanes' worst-hit areas.

Now that Project Loon is rolling out, the people who are in stricken areas can expect to see services that enable them to send text messages and access the internet for limited browsing. As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible. This is where Google's parent company is stepping in, through its Project Loon team.

This is also and the first time Alphabet has turned on Project Loon in the United States. It is part of an innovation lab within Alphabet that the company calls X, previously known as Google X.

Apple has also been working with AT&T to bring connectivity to residents in Puerto Rico, according to TechCrunch.

In early October, the Federal Communications Commission gave Project Loon, a balloon-powered internet program from the firm X, an experimental license to provide emergency cell service to the island after Hurricane Maria.

Since Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has struggled to regain communications services.

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Thanks to the Americas, Caribbean and Puerto Rican governments' aviation authorities and air traffic controllers, we've been able to use our navigational algorithms to send small teams of balloons from our launch site in Nevada to Puerto Rico.

As a refresher, Project Loon involves balloons that, in a way, act like cellular towers floating in the stratosphere. "Apple engineers have created a special carrier settings update which users connected to Wi-Fi or who are connected to a cellular network will automatically be prompted to download throughout the week".

Liberty Cablevision and SES Networks, for example, helped Project Loon get ground infrastructure set up so that the balloons could make connectivity available.

Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth says in a blog post that the technology is still experimental, though it has been tested since a year ago in Peru following flooding there. With the use of an LTE mobile phone, people in affected areas can use that signal to connect to the internet - communicating with loved ones and getting much needed information in the process. Loon balloons sail on winds in the stratosphere, extending the reach of our telecommunication partner's networks into areas that are now unconnected.

Hurricane Maria devastated the US territory of 3.4 million people since making landfall last month.

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