Project Loon is an audacious concept dreamt up in Google's secretive X lab to connect remote regions of the world through high-flying communications balloons. Now headed up by Google's parent company, Alphabet, the balloons have been green-lighted to take flight over Puerto Rico as the island still reels from the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The idea behind Project Loon is to use a fleet of solar-powered balloons fitted with communications gear to form networks in the stratosphere, where they provide connectivity to those on the ground below. Alphabet has tested the balloons in New Zealand and Brazil, while the company has agreements with Sri Lanka and Indonesia to one day deploy them over those countries, too.
With around 83 percent of Puerto Rico currently without cell service, the Federal Communications Commission has now granted Alphabet an experimental license to put its balloons in the air over the island.
Disaster relief is still relatively new territory for Project Loon, though it did have recent success using its stratospheric balloons in Peru. With communications infrastructure on the ground knocked out by extreme rain and flooding earlier in the year, Project Loon teamed up with local carrier Telefonica and provided internet connections to tens of thousands of Peruvians over an area around the size of Switzerland.
Project Loon will again team up with local mobile carriers, and work with them to restore communications in both Puerto Rico and the nearby US Virgin Islands. It has been granted a license to operate through until April of next year.