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Google’s failed balloon-based tech utilised to develop laser internet

Google’s plan to bring internet connections to remote regions was a noble one, but its balloon-based project failed to get off the ground. Fortunately, however, that same tech has helped to inspire a more promising avenue involving laser communications and the cloud.

Providing remote regions with solid internet connections has been a major ambition within Silicon Valley for years. Attempts thus far, however, have been largely unsuccessful.

Up until the project was disbanded just last year, Alphabet’s ‘Loon’ had provided the most promising avenue to bringing billions more online with high-speed internet.

Its idea of releasing fleets of autonomous balloons equipped with internet antennas was undeniably cool, but beset by many logistical drawbacks. Despite successfully bringing connectivity to Puerto Rico – after a hurricane destroyed the island’s telecoms in 2017 – scaling up the tech in the following years became too difficult.

Citing an inability to bring costs low enough for ‘long term, sustainable business,’ Google’s project team decided to call it a day. Fortunately, however, the tech has since been inherited by another start-up with its own ideas called Aalyria.

Equally as ambitious as its predecessor, this idea involves transmitting an internet connection through ultra-concentrated beams of light – or ‘frickin’ laser beams,’ as Doctor Evil would say.

In the context of the Loon project, this same technology was created merely to connect balloons together over large distances, but revisions since have turned it into the main attraction.

In its newest iteration, the device beams data from an internet centre to a receiver placed potentially thousands of kilometres away. The light is shot directly into adjustable mirrors and the data is received to be distributed, much in the same way a fibre optic ferries data from point A to B.

The company claims that this system is ridiculously fast: ‘100-1000x faster than anything else available today,’ in-fact, and able to service planes, ships, and even satellite communications. Impressive, right?

Equipped with sophisticated AI powered by the cloud, the lasers can adjust their intensity to navigate through potential obstructions like haze, dust, and rain. In theory, its light will hardly ever be scattered, meaning a delightfully smooth connection can be established and maintained.

Right now, Aalyria is comprised of just 26 people, and while it has the rights to use Google’s tech for its own purposes, whether it can sell it for real world use is another thing. Still, investors are reportedly interested in buying, including the US Department of Defense… make of that what you will.

In the wider scheme of things, the more exciting application of this tech is how it could potentially transform the lives of people living in developing countries.

When it comes to growing access to education, ease of communication, improving crop efficiency, and amplifying voices, access to the internet has become essential in 2022.

Hopefully, this can be something of a real breakthrough in that regard.


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