Google's Project Loon improves launch and range to expand its reach

Google's Project Loon internet balloons have been airborne for quite some time, and now the company is planning to take the next step with the initiative. The next phase has two parts: a 50-foot-tall launcher and sharing internet signals amongst balloons. The first piece is a so-called Autolauncher, a massive rolling apparatus referred internally as the Bird House, and its canvas sides allow a crew of four to block up to 15 MPH winds in order to launch successfully. Take-offs are now partially automated too, and the time needed to do so was cut from 45 minutes down to just 15.

Second, each Project Loon balloon used to have to maintain contact with the ground in order to disperse a connection, but that's no longer the case. Now, the flying connectivity pods can connect to each other, further expanding the area they can blanket with service. Rather than having to stay within about 50 miles of a station, Loon gear can travel distances of around 250 to 500 miles. As Bloomberg puts it, using the balloons together as a network mean Google can now offer internet to a region with eight ground stations. Project Loon aims to provide days of continuous connectivity by the end of the year, which would be an improvement from recent trials. The goal is for a wider deployment to happen sometime in 2016 in places like Latin America, West Africa and Asia.