Balloons To Bring Internet To Far Flung Areas All Over The World
Last summer, an internet balloon was launched into the stratosphere of Peru where it stayed for 100 days. This is in line with Project Loon that plans to deliver internet to far flung areas of the world. Project Loon originally thought that they would require hundreds of balloons that will drift aimlessly all over the globe because of the uncertainly of weather in the stratosphere.
The balloons that were launched in Peru were equipped with navigational systems that were built around machine-learning techniques to detect subtle patterns in the atmospheric conditions that cannot be discerned by people. In spite of the uncertainty, the balloons were kept in a general area in Peru. This means that Project Loon can bring internet to un-served areas using 10, 20 or 30 balloons instead of 200, 300 or 400 balloons. Because of fewer balloons, there is a potential for the project to be profitable.
Previously, the navigation system of Loon was coded manually which gave the lab limited control over the balloons. The ultra-light balloons have limited capabilities to change direction on their own and can only move upwards or downwards. In order to stay in a specific area, the balloons have to learn to read the stratosphere and rise and fall to keep them in place.
The Loon team was able to develop an algorithm that will allow the balloons to navigate by themselves. After analyzing available flight and weather data, the balloons learned to navigate better than the hand-coded system. The navigation system relies on an artificial intelligence technique known as the Gaussian Process or GPs. This allowed the balloons to deal with the uncertainty of the stratosphere using small amounts of data. Flying the internet balloon all over the world has the potential to bring internet to more people without the need to build more infrastructures.
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