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
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect