Alphabet’s Project Loon has brought basic communications back to parts of Puerto Rico for individuals who have LTE phones. The communications are being made possible by Project Loon’s balloons; they’re currently giving people access to the Internet and text messaging in parts of the island hit hardest by Hurricane Maria. The team has been working with a variety of groups to make this possible, including the FAA and FCC.
Project Loon is bringing this emergency Internet connectively to parts of Puerto Rico in collaboration with AT&T. Per a recent update from Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth, this marks the first time the group’s machine learning algorithms have been used to cluster these balloons over Puerto Rico. It is still a work-in-progress, but Westgarth explains that Project Loon will try to keep the balloons available over Puerto Rico for as long as they’re needed.
The destruction of Puerto Rico knocked out communications across the island, and it presented a unique scenario for Project Loon to deploy its balloons. Westgarth explains that this was the first time the team had ever deployed its Project Loon connectivity ‘from scratch’ at such a fast rate, a process made possible in part by help from AT&T and other entities.
Liberty Cablevision and SES Networks, for example, helped Project Loon get ground infrastructure set up so that the balloons could make connectivity available. It is yet to be seen how well Project Loon’s balloon-based Internet delivery will work, but it will no doubt provide the team will information they need to refine and improve their product over time.
The technology was developed to deliver Internet in places where traditional options aren’t available, either due to being a rural region or in cases like Puerto Rico where a disaster wipes out existing infrastructure. This isn’t the first time Project Loon balloons have been used to restore basic communications following a disaster — that distinction goes to the team’s work in Peru last year following extensive flooding.