Plans to distribute a worldwide network of balloons to bring access to all areas of the world have been scrapped by Google this week. The project, named Loon, was first initiated in 2011 with a goal to ‘connect people everywhere’. Loon positioned itself as a beacon of hope for the most remote regions in the world to become connected to the digital sphere, but the project has been stopped by Google amongst concerns it is not commercially viable.
Whilst many companies are concerning themselves with their current users, Google has been continually focusing on its future ones. Drawing almost direct inspiration from the 2009 UP movie, where an old man and young boy travel in their house by tying balloons to it, the project had planned to use traditional balloon technology for a sci-fi future.
There are anywhere between an estimated one billion, to roughly half the world’s seven and half billion people who are still not connected to the internet. For many, there are hopes that bringing increased connectivity worldwide will help to lift those in poorer more remote regions out of poverty and into a new life of modern living. There are hopes that providing internet globally will help democratise the global sphere, bringing greater access to knowledge and also a wider net of contributors to help diversify the information available online.
Google’s parent company Alphabet were the ones to make the announcement, citing the project as too expensive to continue. CEO of Loon, Alastair Westgarth, said in blog post “While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business”. He went on to describe how “Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier.”
The project has seen ups and downs during the course of its lifespan. While the balloons were irrevocably damaged in 2017 after the tragic Hurricane Maria, and again after the devastating 2019 earthquake in Peru, there were also stories of success. In 2018, the company launched its first official commercial project in the country of Kenya, where it used 35 balloons to connect remote parts of the country. It was also in the same year that Loon became its own company.