The endeavour, called Loon, was announced in June 2013 with the hopes to bring internet use to the entire world, but “the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped” wrote Astro Teller, who leads the company’s X moonshot division, in a blog post.
It tested the balloons in New Zealand and California, before launching in Sri Lanka in 2016 to develop its flight controls and efficiency. Over the years, Puerto Rico saw 30 of Google’s balloons fly over the country to provide phone reception in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and last year were sent to the edge of space to provide internet in Kenya.
Google had even gone as far as using artificial intelligence research to keep the company’s high-altitude balloons flying, using weather patterns and current reports to control how the balloons should move.
Now that Loon is disbanding, Teller writes that many of the team will be moved to alternative roles.
“We hope that Loon is a stepping stone to future technologies and businesses that can fill in blank spots on the globe’s map of connectivity. To accelerate that, we’ll be exploring options to take some of Loon’s technology forward.”
Loon’s technology might still be used in other projects. “Loon’s recently-announced deep reinforcement learning navigation system has experts thinking about applications that include monitoring Earth’s vital signs and even exploration of other planets”, Loon chief executive Alastair Westgarth wrote in a blog post.