Oakland, CA — Google’s parent company Alphabet will close Loon, a well-known subsidiary that spun out of a laboratory that used hot air balloons to provide cellular connections from the stratosphere.
Approximately 10 years after the project started, Alphabet said Thursday that it unplugged Loon because it couldn’t find a way to reduce the cost of building a sustainable business. Alongside the self-driving car unit Waymo, Loon was one of the most hyped “Moonshot” technology projects born of Alphabet’s Lab X.
“The road to commercial viability has proven to be much longer and more risky than expected, so we made the difficult decision to close Loon,” X’s Astro Teller blogged. I am writing in. Alphabet said it plans to close its operations in the “next few months” in the hope of finding other positions for Loon employees at Alphabet.
The idea behind Loon was to bring cellular connectivity to remote parts of the world where traditional mobile networks are too difficult and too costly to build. Alphabet has touted this technology as a potentially promising way to provide Internet connectivity to the “last billion” as well as the “next billion” consumers.
A huge hot air balloon made of polyethylene sheets is about the size of a tennis court. They were powered by solar panels and navigated by flight control software that used artificial intelligence to efficiently drift through the stratosphere. While in the air, they act as “floating cell towers”, sending Internet signals to ground stations and personal devices.
Google started developing Loon in 2011 and started the project in public testing in 2013. Loon became an independent subsidiary in 2018, a few years after Google became a holding company called Alphabet. In April 2019, we received a $ 125 million investment from a SoftBank unit called HAPS Mobile to facilitate the use of “high altitude vehicles” to provide internet connectivity.
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Last year, it announced the first commercial deployment of technology with Telkom Kenya to provide 4G LTE network connectivity to an area of approximately 31,000 square miles in central and western Kenya, including the capital Nairobi. Prior to that, balloons were used only in emergencies, such as after Hurricane Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s mobile network.
However, according to The Information’s November report, Loon was starting to run out of money and relied on Alphabet to maintain a business solution while looking for another investor in the project.
The decision to shut down Loon is another sign of recent austerity for Alphabet’s ambitious and costly technology projects. Under Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s Chief Financial Officer since 2015, the company has carefully monitored the funding of so-called other bets aimed at diversifying from its core advertising business.
Alphabet actively promotes “other bets” such as Waymo and Verily in the life sciences sector, accepting outside investors and developing its own business. Projects that failed to secure external investment or showed sufficient financial prospects, such as Macani, a project that produces wind energy kites that Alphabet closed last year, were abandoned.
Its austerity is an ambitious tech project, even though units like X, which was the favorite vanity project of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, remain uncertain about their financial outlook. It was a remarkable change from the time when we had the autonomy to spend freely in pursuing.
Google closes Loon hot air balloon project
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