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The Plan to Launch Giant Wi-Fi Balloons Over Puerto Rico

Alphabet’s Project Loon aims to help get the heavily damaged island back online.

One of Project Loon's early balloon concepts in 2013.
One of Project Loon’s early balloon concepts in 2013. iLighter/CC BY 2.0

With disaster relief efforts still in crisis mode in Puerto Rico, a number of private companies and citizens are doing what they can to help the island’s residents. While some are providing food and other necessary materials, Project Loon, a division of Alphabet’s X lab (formerly Google X), is trying to set up temporary internet and cell service using giant balloons.

As Futurism is reporting, Project Loon has received expedited approval from the FCC to launch wireless data-providing balloons over Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as soon as possible. The goal of Project Loon is to provide internet coverage to inaccessible or less developed parts of the world by floating large balloons in the stratosphere, at about 65,000 feet. The balloons carry signal relay points capable of communicating with service providers on the ground—in a sense they are more or less floating cell towers. According to Project Loon’s website, the balloons can stay up for as long as 190 days at a time.

Once they’re in place, the Loon balloons would be able to provide emergency cell service and high-speed internet to rescuers, workers, and citizens on the ground. Project Loon has provided similar disaster relief and testing in places ranging from France to Indonesia to Peru.

The exact number of balloons that will be deployed over Puerto Rico is still unclear, as they must first establish an on-the-ground base from which to transmit to the balloons. But with luck, Project Loon’s simple solution could speed recovery efforts and help save lives.