If you’ve been hearing about Google recently, you should have noticed their balloon project. What is it? To put it simply, Google is trying to hook up the whole world onto the Internet.
How? Well, by using balloons that provide wi-fi flying about in the stratosphere, around 18 kilometres (or 60,000 feet) above sea level.
That sounds a little fantastical to me, but even they thought so. It’s called Project Loon. It even has a great triple meaning. Well, I admit, maybe loony wasn’t part of it, but how about balloon? And isn’t the loon a bird? Never mind that it spends most of its time swimming and diving into lakes, of course. Okay. I’m done joking.
Google always seems to be the visionary. I mean, look at their portfolio: there’s Google Glass, their driver-less car, and now a wi-fi balloon. Given, the autonomous vehicle has picked up some major traction from all the companies that are joining the revolution, but it seems that the world isn’t ready for some of its more interesting innovations. Project Loon is quite a brave venture for many reasons.
There’s a hurdle called national airspace. That is, how will countries react to these balloons flying over them and giving them wi-fi? Google says that their balloons are in the stratosphere, but how high in the sky does one have to go to be in international airspace? Given all the controversy drones have caused recently, what’s to stop it from spilling over to Google’s balloons? (Granted, they’ve already begun testing, but that was in countries that were open to their ideas. On another note, you can see what the US is doing about it.) It looks like Google will have to sort this out with policymakers before they can actually get their balloons off the ground.
How is the project planning on making money? Yes, even Fortune 500 companies are allowed to be charitable, but the money to keep the project going still needs to come from somewhere. It might be enough for Google to get a several billion more people using their services, but if those billions of people don’t translate into billions of dollars, will Google continue the project? No matter what it does, it’s still a public company with shareholders to think about. (Look at what happened to Google Glass.) Even if they did want to continue the project, there just might not be enough support for it.
And how is this going to change the world? Let’s admit that given all the odds stacked against it, it might not. But if it does, well, then, there would be wi-fi everywhere. Everyone with a device could hook up to the Internet anytime they needed. The globe would become even more interconnected.
But as with any new system, it is open to exploitation. (Especially if it relates to the Internet.) If everyone was connected to the grid, then, obviously, governments/companies/random hackers would have no problem keeping tabs on marked targets. As everyone becomes more connected, everyone becomes more vulnerable. So are we going to further give up personal freedoms for the sake of convenience?
Let us not forget that Google plans to have these balloons all over the world. That means it affects everyone. And so everyone has a voice in this.