Internet May Soon Return to Puerto Rico Thanks to Google Spinoff Project Loon
The recovery is coming along slowly for Puerto Rico. Two and a half weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island, 88% of residents are still without power and 83% of cell towers are still offline.
But, there's a solution that just got a green light on Friday. Google's Project Loon spinoff has received approval from the US Federal Communications Commission to launch a network of balloons to restore cell service to Puerto Rico.
That's right: balloons.
Originally developed by Google X — the company's "moonshot" lab — starting in 2011, Project Loon was finally unveiled in 2013 through a pilot experiment in New Zealand. After logging over 12 million flight miles and proving itself after a disaster in flooded areas of Peru, it's ready to work in Puerto Rico.
However, it needs a telecom partner before it can help restore internet to the millions of people on the island. That's because the balloons themselves aren't really providing internet, but act as a relay point for ground-transmitted internet communications. As explained by company spokesperson Libby Leahy to TechCrunch:
We’re grateful for the support of the FCC and the Puerto Rican authorities as we work hard to see if it’s possible to use Loon balloons to bring emergency connectivity to the island during this time of need. To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner’s network — the balloons can’t do it alone. We’ve been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who’s been lending a hand.
But it doesn't seem like Project Loon is waiting for this partner to emerge before launching balloons. As we can see on FlightRadar24, Project Loon is already starting to fill the skies with Project Loon balloons. As of Monday afternoon, there are six in the air in the proximity of Puerto Rico, with those offshore seemingly riding winds toward the island:
For more about Project Loon, here's the company's introduction video: