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Google mother Alphabet abandons Loon balloon project


How can sparsely populated regions be connected to the grid? Google's future laboratory relied on balloons. After eight years the project is back on the ground.

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Loon balloon at a Google developer conference: The project was presented in 2013

Photo: Stephen Lam / REUTERS

The Google parent company Alphabet ends its attempt to supply remote regions with high-speed internet using balloons.

The subsidiary Loon founded for this purpose is closed.

"We haven't found a way to reduce costs to the point that long-term sustainable business is possible," Loon boss Alastair Westgarth wrote in a blog post on Friday.

Google introduced the big balloons that can stay in the air for weeks in 2013.

The idea was that remote and sparsely populated areas could be supplied with Internet in this way more cheaply than with conventional telecommunications infrastructure.

In the meantime, Google and Facebook are experimenting with drones for this purpose, but both abandoned these plans relatively quickly.

In contrast, Google saw business potential in balloons.

Under the umbrella of the parent company Alphabet, which was created later, the project was brought into the independent company Loon in 2018.

Only last year Loon started supplying a region in Kenya in cooperation with a local network operator.

A discontinued but successful experiment?

Loon had to overcome enormous technical challenges: The balloons float around and transmit data to each other.

But in the end it was apparently even more difficult to build a business model.

Internet access has become available in more and more regions in recent years - and in the remaining regions it is too expensive or uninteresting for many residents.

He had come to the conclusion that Loon would never make a contribution to the profits of the group, said the head of the alphabet innovation laboratory X, Astro Teller, the magazine "Wired".

Loon still sees Loon as a "successful experiment": "True failure is when data shows you are not doing the right thing - and you continue anyway."

Alphabet's future bets like Loon cost billions every year, while Google's core business of online advertising still provides the money for it.

At the same time, the group repeatedly promises investors discipline when it comes to spending.

The best-known innovation project to date is the robot car company Waymo, which is considered a leading player in autonomous driving and has also attracted external investors.

Several dozen loon balloons are currently still in the air.

They are expected to sink to earth over the next nine months and will then be collected.

Icon: The mirror

mbö / dpa

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2021-01-22

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