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Alphabet Shuts Down Loon, Its Moonshot Balloon-Powered Internet Project
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March 5, 2021 News

 

Despite the advancements made during the 9-year run of Loon by Google parent company Alphabet, the firm made a difficult decision to wind down the balloon-powered internet access project, citing challenges in commercial viability and financial reasons.

Loon was one of the first projects started by X in 2013, a Google subsidiary focusing on research and development of “moonshot” projects, which are breakthrough technologies that have the potential to transform people’s lives and become large sustainable businesses.

Loon’s aim was to become an option for connecting rural, remote and underserved areas and for helping with communications after natural disasters, through beaming internet access to the ground at speeds similar to cellular networks or faster.

In 2018, Loon graduated from the X projects and was turned into an independent firm. During the run of Loon, the team was able to realise breakthrough achievements – precisely navigating balloons in the stratosphere, creating a mesh network in the sky and developing balloons that can withstand the harsh conditions of the stratosphere for more than a year.

The Loon team also worked side-by-side with governments and global aviation and communications regulators to showcase and enable new technologies.

“While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier. Today, I’m sad to share that Loon will be winding down”, Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon said in a recent blog post.

However, Loon is still making efforts to pass down these technologies and help their beneficiaries even in the absence of the project. Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots, X, said in a blog post that they are working to take care of employees and hope to help many find alternative roles at X, Google and Alphabet.

In addition, a small group from the Loon team will stay to ensure Loon’s operations are wrapped up smoothly and safely — including winding down Loon’s pilot service in Kenya. “Although Loon is going away, our commitment to connectivity isn’t. Today we’re pledging a fund of USD $10 million to support non-profits and businesses focused on connectivity, the Internet, entrepreneurship and education in Kenya”, added Astro.

The company also announced that some of Loon’s technology — like the high bandwidth (20Gbps+) optical communication links that were first used to beam a connection between balloons bopping in the stratosphere — already lives on in Project Taara, another project from X.

According to Astro, the Taara team is currently working with partners in Sub-Saharan Africa to bring affordable, high-speed internet to unconnected and under-connected communities starting in Kenya.

“While we’re sad and disappointed that Loon’s journey has come to an end, connectivity remains high on our list of spaces to keep hunting for moonshot ideas and hopeful Loon will live on as inspiration for others to try audacious, radical ideas”, Astro concluded.

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