While Facebook is working on low altitude spaceplanes to deliver Internet to the unconnected masses, Google X's Project Loon aims to create a "balloon-powered Internet" network, hovering right at the cusp of space, to cover the remote and rural areas that aren't yet online.
In an update on its moonshot undertaking, Google reveals that Project Loon has come quite far in just a year—especially for something so far out.
Project Loon is tweaking its predictive formulas to help situate these custom weather balloons in the right spot. Thanks to improved understanding of weather conditions and stratospheric winds, one balloon wound up within 1.5 kilometers of its target location after a 9,000 kilometer test flight.
The project is also focused on scaling up—blowing up massive, high-tech balloons takes a lot of time, after all: "It's one thing for our balloons to last longer, but to build a ring of connectivity around the world we'll also need to get more in the air."
Thanks to new custom equipment, balloons with a volume comparable to 7,000 ordinary party balloons can now be filled in fewer than five minutes, making it possible to launch as many as 20 each day. Some of Project Loon's other lessons have been a product of trial and error: