April 07, 2014, 1:45 PM — When Jules Verne wrote Around the World in Eighty Days, this probably isn't what he had in mind: Google's Project Loon announced last week one of its balloons had circumnavigated the Earth in 22 days.
Granted, we're not talking a grand tour of the world here: The balloon flew in a loop over the open ocean surrounding Antarctica, starting at New Zealand. According to the Project Loon team, it was the latest accomplishment for the balloon fleet, which just achieved 500,000 kilometers of flight.
While it may seem like fun and games, Project Loon's larger goal is to use high-altitude balloons to "connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters."
Currently, the project is test-flying balloons to learn more about wind patterns, and to test its balloon designs. In the past nine months, the project team has used data it's accumulated during test flights to "refine our prediction models and are now able to forecast balloon trajectories twice as far in advance."
It also modified the balloon's air pump (which pumps air in and out of the balloon) to operate more efficiently, which in turn helped the balloon stay on course in this latest test run.
Project Loon's next step toward universal Internet connection is to create "a ring of uninterrupted connectivity around the 40th southern parallel," which it expects to pull off sometime this year.