Alphabet X Loon Looms Large
Approximately six weeks after Hurricane Maria tore apart the Island of Puerto Rico, many people have had power, water, and food supplies restored. Along with power and water, residents clamored for internet and phone service. Enter Google, which owns Alphabet X’s lab and Project Loon. It seems it might be a possible solution to overcoming the lack of infrastructure—using helium-filled balloons.
— The Team at X (@Theteamatx) September 29, 2017
After President Trump got into a ruckus with the Mayor of the capital city of San Juan about how much aid would be sent, and how soon it would be cut off, it was not clear how long it might take to bring full relief to the island. The truth is the infrastructure was suffering before the storm and now it is almost non-existent. From an article in The Verge we found that this is not the first time this balloon relief has been tried. Though it was somewhat successful in other lands, in this case the island and its weather will definitely come into play.
Providing connectivity to areas affected by natural disasters has been one of the core missions of Loon since its inception in 2011. The unit has run pilot programs in New Zealand and Brazil, and it’s also partnered with a number of countries, including Indonesia and Sri Lanka, to deploy LTE using its signature air balloons. However, it appears that Loon has never attempted to provide emergency connectivity at the scale Puerto Rico requires. It’s unclear to what extent Loon may be able to assist the island, and if its technology is capable of doing so in a way as meaningful as the necessary financial and infrastructural aid the U.S. government could provide.
If the Loon Project works in total or in part, it will be an exciting possibility to solve future internet disruptions in storm battered areas. And with the help that Facebook announced it was bringing to the island, perhaps this will be enough to keep this misery short-lived for the citizens of this U.S. territory.