Video: Google launches 'Project Loon' internet balloon in New Zealand

In an effort to get the entire planet online, Google launches transmitting balloons over New Zealand

Christchurch

Wrinkled and skinny at first, the jellyfish-shaped balloons that Google released this week from a frozen field in New Zealand's South Island hardened into shiny pumpkins as they rose above Lake Tekapo, passing the first test of an ambitious scheme to get the planet online.

It was the culmination of 18 months' work on what Google calls Project Loon, in recognition of how wacky the idea may sound. Developed in the secretive X-Lab that came up with web-surfing glasses, the inflatables beam the internet down to Earth as they sail past. Still in their experimental stage, the balloons were the first of thousands that Google eventually hopes to launch 12 miles into the stratosphere to bridge the digital divide between the 4.8 billion in the world unconnected to the internet and their 2.2 billion plugged-in counterparts. If successful, it might allow countries to leapfrog the expense of laying fibre cable, dramatically increasing internet usage in places such as Africa.

The first person to get Google Balloon internet access last week was Charles Nimmo, a farmer and entrepreneur in the small town of Leeston, New Zealand. He found the experience a little bemusing after he was one of 50 locals who signed up to test a project that was so secret no one would explain to them what was happening. Technicians came to the volunteers' homes and attached to the outside walls bright red receivers the size of basketballs and resembling giant Google map pins.

Mr Nimmo got the internet for about 15 minutes before the balloon transmitting it sailed on past. He is among the many rural folk who can't get broadband access, and bills from his satellite internet service can exceed £600 in a month.

Google's balloons fly free and out of eyesight, scavenging power from solar panels that dangle below and gather enough charge in four hours to power them for a day. Far below, ground stations with internet capabilities about 60 miles apart bounce signals up to the balloons.

Each balloon would provide internet service for an area twice the size of New York City, and terrain is not a challenge. There are plenty of catches, including a requirement that anyone using Google Balloon internet would need a receiver plugged in to their computer to get the signal. Google is not talking costs at this point, although it is striving to make them as low as possible.

Before heading to New Zealand, Google spent a few months secretly launching flights in California, prompting a handful of unusual reports in local media. "We were chasing balloons from trucks on the ground

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable