Google is notorious for retiring apps and services, whether those were in wide use or not. That doesn’t apply to just software either and the company has sunset more than a handful of unsuccessful hardware projects that would have caused smaller companies to fold. Not Google, of course, for whom experiments, big or small, are a fact of life. The latest to join the dreaded Google Graveyard is Loon, the moonshot turned “Other Bet” that would have brought the Internet to places where towers and cables dare not go.
First revealed in 2013, Project Loon, which was back then still under Google and its X moonshot arm, dreamed of a more economical way of delivering the Internet to hard-to-reach areas without relying on expensive satellites. In the middle of the Google split and reorganization under the new Alphabet, Loon, as well as its cousin Titan, survived and became “Other Bets”. Titan and its Internet-bearing solar-powered drones were grounded in 2017.
In terms of technical aspects, the Project Loon experiment was deemed a success. A lot of effort went into making these balloons not only efficient but also smart, using AI to plot out their course and avoid other balloons without human intervention. These Loon balloons were poised to connect the next billion people to the Internet but, unfortunately, that was also the reason why it’s being shut down despite its success.
Loon wasn’t meant to be a charity and its long-term viability would have depended on it becoming a sustainable business. Unfortunately, the next billion users it wanted to connect are exactly the kind of users that wouldn’t have resources to spare for expensive services. As such, there was really no point in Alphabet throwing money at it to keep the balloons afloat.
Project Loon will be winding down operations and its remaining balloons in the coming months while employees are shuffled across Alphabet, Google, and X. It’s definitely disappointing news to hear, especially given how Loon Internet played critical roles in some natural disasters in the past two to three years. That pretty much leaves Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite constellation as the last one standing among efforts to spread the Internet further and farther, but that will most likely also be out of reach for the next billion that Loon was aiming for.