Inside Google's Loon and Wing

ITworld | May 20, 2015

We got up close with Project Loon and Project Wing, delivering Internet and packages from the sky.

Internet by balloon and delivery by drone. It’s Google at Maker Faire.


Project Loon is an ambitious attempt to deliver 4G Internet service from balloons at up to 90,000 feet, an altitude much higher than airliners. Hundreds have already been launched as part of tests and, if all goes well, Google wants to bring the service to the world.

That’s the payload container. The batteries are up top, then some control electronics. The cellular equipment that delivers the 30 megabits per second signal is missing from this demo because Google didn’t want it revealed.

The container sits at the bottom of the balloon, so it’s antennas have an unobstructed view of the ground. Above it is solar panels and the massive balloon that keeps it all in the air.

What are some of the biggest challenges with doing this?

Ben Eckley, Hardware Test Engineer, Project Loon.
Time. We iterate very fast, so this product has changed incredibly in the last couple of years. We have gone from a foam cooler to this unit here in about two years.

The other challenge has been the balloon envelope itself. We need to design a reliable balloon that will last over a hundred days and that’s something we have been able to accomplish in the last year.

If Loon succeeds, it will be offered through cellular carriers to supplement existing coverage. That will likely be over sparsely populated areas - each balloon can cover an area 80 kilometers in diameter - but they could also supplement service in cities when needed.

And this is Project Wing, a Google attempt at a delivery drone. What is unique about this is that it takes off and lands vertically, not horizontally like most drones.

This is the prototype used in tests that Google conducted last year in the Australian outback, but the dreams are much bigger.

Adem Rudin, Mechanical Engineer, Google X
The long term goal is delivery anything to anyone anywhere. And we’ve got a long way to go, both technological and government regulation wise but we are making progress on all fronts.

We have an operator at a computer and they’ll load up a mission, click go and the drone will take off by itself. Take off vertically, transition into forward flight, transition back to hover and winch down the package to deliver, winch the line back up, transition into forward flight, fly back to the landing area and hover to land. All autonomously.

Pushed by companies like Google and Amazon, which has similar ideas, the FAA is currently loosening up its drone flight restrictions for companies. There are still a lot of technical hurdles to overcome, including the rather important crash avoidance, but these companies are anxious to perfect it soon.