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How Google's internet-balloon idea got off the ground


On paper, the notion of balloon-provided internet sounds more than a little ridiculous, but that's just how Google X rolls. Mountain View's far-off research division has recently spilled (some of) its guts to Fast Company, detailing the process for bringing something like Project Loon from concept to reality. To start, every X project must address a problem that affects possibly billions of people and it has to use a radical solution that resembles sci-fi to do so. Oh, and it needs to utilize tech that's "very nearly" obtainable, if it already isn't available, too.

Loon began as an idea concerning device-to-device connections, but in June 2011 it was shifted to boosting internet access in rural areas. The team then riffed on Lockheed's plans for a high-altitude, stationary comms airship idea to come up with balloons for the delivery method. From there, the group cobbled together radio transmitters, cardboard boxes and weather balloons, launched the prototype and drove under it to test the gizmo's mettle. Google X execs commissioned the experiment as an official project that August, and then a small house was built in the lab to test antenna designs. Almost two years later, Project Loon went for an official test run over New Zealand in June 2013. Today, the search giant is weighing what types of business models could work best for the service, from a number of telco suitors. Fast Company's lengthy feature offers a pretty fascinating look inside Google's secretive lab -- including why X abandoned its space elevator and teleporter projects (yes, really) -- so be sure to check it out.

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