Neighbors in a quiet Los Angeles suburb were shocked this weekend to wake up and find a Google Loon balloon crashed on their street.
The mystery aircraft was found stuck in a palm tree in Janet Olaffson’s front yard in Chino Hills, California Saturday morning and quickly became a focal point of the neighborhood.
Olaffson says she didn’t see the balloon crash in her front yard, and didn’t even know it was there until sheriff’s deputies came knocking on her door.
‘We ran out, and the police said don’t go near it,’ Olaffson told CBS San Francisco. ‘At that time they had got a call from the company that said its a weather balloon.’
Residents gathered around to take pictures of the grounded 50-foot balloon and rumors quickly spread that it was a weather balloon on its way from Las Vegas to Japan.
But in reality, the balloon wasn’t monitoring weather at all – but an experiment in offering 3G internet on the fly.
The aircraft was identified as a Google Loon balloon, which the tech company is developing in conjunction with the government of Sri Lanka.
The Loon balloon is designed to float at high altitudes above earth and beam internet access down to the ground.
This specific loon balloon was supposed to land in the area, but crashed before it reached it’s intended destination.
Earlier this summer, Google engineers announced that they were focusing on testing these internet balloons in giant freezers to see if they have any leaks
The helium-filled balloons can beam 3G-speed internet to some of the 4.8 billion people in the world that are not yet online.
The testing has helped the balloons stay aloft longer than ever before. In February, 2014, the record streak for a balloon lasting in the stratosphere was 50 days.
By March 2, this year the record for a continuous balloon flight is 187 days.
As well as being better spotting leaks, since its launch two years ago, Google has streamlined the process to launch the balloons.
In 2013, the company needed 14 people and 45 minutes to get one aloft.
But according to a recent report by Bloomberg, Google has now built a portable hangar that contains a crane to stretch the balloons before filling them with helium.
Using this device, called the Autolauncher, four people can launch a balloon in 15 minutes.
Google is now also making the most of data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to predict weather patterns and improve the balloon’s ability to navigate winds.
According to Google, once the project is up and running, their balloons could supply internet to an area of about 780 square miles – twice the size of New York City.
Project Loon was developed in the company’s X Lab by the same team behind Google Glasses and the driverless car.
It is hoped it could save developing countries the high cost of laying fibre cables to get online and lead to a dramatic increase in internet access for the likes of Africa and south-east Asia.
By the end of the year, Google is hoping to provide a few days of continuous service in its tests. And by next year, it says the service could go commercial.
Loon could even provide emergency back-up for areas during natural disasters. (Daily Mail)