Project Loon Delivers Internet to Puerto Rico
It’s been almost eight weeks since Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, and the territory is still in the process of recovering. Over half of the island’s inhabitants don’t have access to electricity, which makes communicating with friends, family, and the wider world nearly impossible. To help solve this problem, Alphabet launched several balloons as part of its Project Loon mobile internet service, bringing internet connectivity to 100,000 people in Puerto Rico.
First reported on about 2 ½ years ago, Project Loon, was initially developed to deliver widespread economic and social benefits by bringing Internet access to the 60 percent of the world’s people who don’t have it. But circumstances have found another application for the project.
The Puerto Ricans’ communications infrastructure suffered extensive damage. But the team was able to work with AT&T and T-Mobile to get “communication and internet activities like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE enabled phones,” head of Project Loon Alastair Westgarth wrote in a blog post.
“In times of crisis, being able to communicate with loved ones, emergency services and critical information is key,” said Loon project lead Alastair Westgarth in a statement. “We hope that the connectivity Project Loon has provided over the last few weeks has been helpful, and would like to thank AT&T, T-Mobile, and our government partners who made these efforts possible.”
The balloons were launched from Nevada and navigated over Puerto Rico using machine learning algorithms to predict the direction of air currents. The project was granted an experimental license by the FCC.
While the 100,000 people that were able to get service is only a small fraction of the 3.5 million, it is a step in the right direction for a country that lost all communications. Perhaps by adding more balloons, combined with dedicated infrastructure repair, it might be possible to get the island back online relatively soon.