Feeds

back to article Google launches broadband balloons, radio astronomy frets

Nearly the whole science and tech world is turning cartwheels at Google's “Project Loon”, Google's audacious “bring the Internet to the world using weather balloons” test that kicked off in New Zealand over the weekend. As Wired notes, having flown to New Zealand for the launch, Project Loon came out of the same “Project X” …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
Silver badge
Facepalm

Can't wait until the anti-windfarm brigade see this

And here's how the Google Time Machine visualised the idea over London in the 1940s.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Air traffic?

Ballons are not controllable once released, is this not going to be a treat to air traffic?

"Yes, they crashed but they had perfect free WiFi on the way down"..

3
4
Silver badge

Re: Air traffic?

Having worked a bit with weather balloons...

They are generally visible to radar and pilots know to steer around them. I've been on a flight where the very chatty pilot told us there was a weather balloon and they were steering around it. Indeed many, if not most, weather balloons are launched from weather stations at airports.

They are controllable to an extent, just as hot air balloons are. Bleeding off gas can help keep them in desirable currents for longer.

2
1
Silver badge
Stop

Re: Air traffic?

RTFA. They fly at around 60,000 feet. Very few aircraft are capable of even reaching 60,000 feet and even then these things aren't invisible to RADAR, it shouldn't be hard to route around them.

2
4
Go

Re: Air traffic?

Presumably they have to get up to 60,000 feet (and back down again) somehow though ... which I think was the point of the earlier comments.

9
0
Silver badge
Boffin

Re: Air traffic?

Maybe the El Reg Special Projects Bureau could come in one this and reminds us all jus how BIG our airspace is, bearing in mind it's in super-duper 3D ;-)

0
0
Bronze badge

Re: Air traffic?

Years ago, I researched weather balloons. They're radio-reflective, so they stand out quite well on radar. They're also the right color to see when flying.

As commercial aircraft have collision avoidance radar and air traffic control has radar and the windscreen is clear, avoiding the balloons on their way up or down is trivial.

As evidenced by the marked lack of collision of aircraft and weather balloon in over three generations and counting.

0
0
Silver badge
Facepalm

Big Science vs Big Nerd

Google didn't get in touch before blowing air into a project that has the potential to disrupt our search for the origins of the universe.

1
0
Silver badge

Radio astronomers bleating for the front page...

If a flight of Wifi balloons can screw them up the so can 747s transmitting radar etc. Sounds like the radio astronomers should have thought a bit more about the potential problems of their flimsy design before building it.

Anyway, who cares about the origins of the universe? We're here. Now. Let's get on with the future. Knowing about billions of years ago, or the dinosaurs, or even 1066 is just knowledge for the safe of knowledge. It doesn't have any real impact on our lives.

1
29
Silver badge

Re: Radio astronomers bleating for the front page...

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. - George Santayana

A quote which is shown to be true time and time again if you know anything about history. As for the origins of the universe, in studying such things we learn more about how the universe works. That in turn leads to new technolgies that will eventually impact your daily life.

4
1
Thumb Down

Re: Radio astronomers bleating for the front page...

Key to getting to where you want to go efficiently is knowing where you are. That is true in reality and metaphorically. If you think that 1066 hasn't any impact on your life today, maybe to you need an English class and discover why we raise cattle but eat beef, or why people have "sex" these days rather than do what the Anglo Saxons did. If you think that dinosaurs are relevant to your life, maybe you should try operating a car without oil - I know, oil isn't composed of dinosaurs, but you want to consider how to _find_ oil, and how dinosaurs and other extinct critters might help in that. "Ooh! Shiny!" isn't just the way the future manifests, it also how the future of thousands of animals was truncated quite abruptly in the La Brea tar pits. Thousands more saw the mired animals, and thought "Ooh! Easy food!," instead of considering whether that tar could be a problem for eaters as well as eatees. In fact, if you really aren't willing to learn from the past, your future is very likely going to be constrained to grumpy crotchiness about all this new fangled stuff because all that new fangled stuff is built using knowledge gathered in the past.

1
0
Bronze badge

Re: Radio astronomers bleating for the front page...

"Now. Let's get on with the future. "

Understanding the physics of the universe is part and parcel of moving on with the future. If you reject that, stop being a hypocrite and cease using that fancy, high tech physics device in front of you, your computer.

As for flimsy design, please try to learn a little bit about radio in general, then a mite about radio astronomy. The signals are miniscule, small enough that even the atmosphere can interfere with them, let alone an aircraft or a radio signal made by man. The radio telescopes are sited in locations away from road travel, man made radio signals and air traffic corridors.

The troubling thing isn't the the level of ignorance displayed her, what troubles me is that the ignorant also vote their opinion, with predictable results.

0
0
WTF?

For heavens' sake, those balloons were launched from an observatory!

Why does Dr Tucker assume that Google X Labs haven't thought of this, nor consulted with astronomers already? The Guardian hosted a YouTube video of the balloon launch taken from a helicopter, and I recognized the launch site as Mount John Observatory near Lake Tekapo, run by Canterbury University.

Now it may be that the optical astronomers don't talk to the people running the big dishes at Warkworth, like TIm Natusch, but somehow I doubt it.

3
2
Anonymous Coward

Re: For heavens' sake, those balloons were launched from an observatory!

are google known for consulting with anyone before going ahead with their pet projects?

3
1

This post has been deleted by its author

Meh

Do Google consult

That's a good question, but they shouldn't need to. The point was if they were launching from an actual observatory, every astronomer in NZ would know and approve of what they were doing. Years ago when I was doing astronomy and astrophysics at Canterbury our professor joked that he was one of exactly two Kiwis who put "Occupation: astronomer" on his tax return. There are more now but the entire island seems to know what everyone else is doing.

My impression is that Google do consult with before going ahead with their pet projects, when they get to the point of needing to be real-world tested. Their so-called "X Labs" have only produced three announced projects so far though, and only one of those has got to the point where official involvement was vital: the driverless car. Others like the Space Elevator are really long term.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: For heavens' sake . . .

Exactly.

0
1

Re: For heavens' sake, those balloons were launched from an observatory!

Yes, and I got a surprise when I saw Mount St John below the Googly.

1
0
Stop

SKA *isn't* in Australia (or NZ)

The primary site for SKA is in South Africa, part of sub-Saharan Africa, and the entire region is exactly the type of area Google Loon is intended to provide internet access for. I doubt NZ (or Australia) are one of the primary spots Google intends on deploying large numbers of these balloons - the pilot is probably being done there because of infrastructure and favourable legislation, etc.

The long baseline configuration of SKA in Africa has dishes planned far to the north, in exactly the areas Loons would be most useful. To examine this impact purely from an antipodean perspective is to ignore the main impact of the idea.

In fact, it's unlikely Google would be able to operate this anywhere near Carnarvon, where the primary site will be - the SA government enacted fairly stringent legislation to protect the investment being made in radio astronomy.

The press release (prior to passing in the legislature),

http://www.ska.ac.za/releases/20071210.php

and the act itself:

http://www.ska.ac.za/download/aga_act.pdf

3
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: SKA *isn't* in Australia (or NZ)

mike32 clearly hasn't been keeping-up; the SKA *IS* going to be in Australia *AND* South Africa; site selection was completed last year with the dual-site announcement here:

http://www.skatelescope.org/news/dual-site-agreed-square-kilometre-array-telescope/

0
1
Alert

Re: SKA *isn't* in Australia (or NZ)

I'm well aware *part* of it is going to be in Australia - it's fortunate the engineering capabilities are such that the split isn't going to negatively affect the science aspect, otherwise it'd have all been in South Africa. The significant delay (and resultant "shared prize") was purely to avoid wasting the work done by and in Australia.

In the context of the article, however, it is extremely significant that the vast majority of the project is going to be in South Africa, with satellite posts throughout Southern Africa - a very large area, with very poor land-line internet access and a not-insignificant, relatively evenly distributed rural population, exactly the target demographic for Google Loon. With the to-and-fro over 20Mbps vs (up to) 1Gbps for the NBN, it would seem Australia is not much of a target for Loon, hence my initial point.

0
0
Bronze badge

Hang on

So what they're saying is that anything within the frequency range 0.5Ghz to 3Ghz can interfere with a system that takes up vast areas of the planet's surface. I'm afraid I have some bad news for them - Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all have sources of signals in these ranges.

0
3
Silver badge

Re: Hang on

Those places may have many sources of those signals, but they don't have thousands of them continuously operating at a height of 60,000 feet.

5
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: Hang on

I don't think you have a real appreciation for the size of Australia, and its population density in certain areas (like the one set aside for its part of the array). It has a land area roughly equivalent to the contiguous states of the US, and a population of 22 million, most of whom are crowded into a handful of coastal cities.

1
0
Silver badge
Boffin

Re: Hang on

SKA does not really work with steerable dishes, it uses synthetic aperture based on many small antennae. By combining the signals from many sources with the right delays, you can form a vast number of beam shapes with a vast number of different side-lobes. This in principle allows you to let a telescope be blind in the direction of fixed radio sources. If you know terrestrial sources are a problem, you can in theory create a null-sensitivity for things on the horizon, or (more easily) in the specific direction of a particular source.

Source above the antennae which drift around and are difficult to predict are a pain, and a cause of many ruined pieces of data.

3
0

Re: Hang on

Aircraft emit such signals, at a lower altitude, which is worse.

0
1
Silver badge
FAIL

More Google Irresponsible Stupidity.

This doesn't even work. The higher the "mast" the more coverage, then the more users and slower the speed.

It's pointless Google PR to make them look like a Cool Tech company. They are an Advertising company.

Range is very high with such a high platform. (For more capacity on Mobile you use LOWER masts and less power). So what ever band it uses it dramatically reduces performance/capacity as the Balloon passes within range. It's irresponsible. As is Google's so called "White Space".

Such Balloons are technically a HAP (High Altitude Platform). The recommended bands are 200GHz and/or 400GHz I think as only that high a frequency is there enough capacity for such range/coverage. It's ridiculous to use ISM for such a platform.

However they will be short lived as the Helium will leak out.

1
7
Silver badge
Stop

Re: More Google Irresponsible Stupidity.

That would only be important if you have a high density of users, at which point permanent infrastructure becomes more practical. The idea is to provide coverage to areas where few people can afford the kit, and there may be one or two shared devices per village.

2
1
Silver badge
Coat

Re: More Google Irresponsible Stupidity.

It's 60km range and also totally unreliable as balloons drift quickly. All of the disadvantages of Balloons and LEO satellites with none of the advantages. A cheap gimmick on the wrong band. There are tethered balloon designs, but that has problems. So Astra has a LEO satellite project using a swarm. There is some scepticism about the SES-Astra project but it's more viable than this nonsense and won't interfere with anyone.

This is either designed by idiots for "cool" or by RF engineers goaded by bosses with big pointy sticks. It's a totally stupid irresponsible band to use on balloons for the General Public.

If a company is going to to something stupid like this they should use a suitable band.

Mines the one with ITU band plans and RF Planning in the pocket.

3
2

Re: More Google Irresponsible Stupidity.

Completely pointless and irresponsible. It can never work, just like the car, the telephone, the wireless, electric light etc. etc. .

I agree it sounds more than a little mad but that doesn't mean it won't work or be useful. The point of these Google ideas is to investigate high risk schemes. They're also working on a space elevator. This project is very interesting on a number of levels, the computer based stratospheric steering in particular.

I cannot see this ever being the way to get regular Internet access to a population, but during disaster recovery efforts it could be invaluable.

3
1

The actual results give the lie.

The farmers testing individual balloons found that a window of 15 minutes internet was given by each balloon passing overhead. By virtue of multiplexing and session identifiers the user limitation is not important. Range increasing with height is only true of simple antennas which these are not, the lobes can be tailored.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Interrupting SKA?

Well that's just Bad Manners, isn't it?

11
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Interrupting SKA?

It's Madness, I tell you!

9
0
Silver badge

Re: Interrupting SKA?

Dunno, looks pretty Special to me.

4
0
Coat

Re: Interrupting SKA?

If you can't Beat it...

0
0
Facepalm

Nothing new under the sun

"Project Loon came out of the same 'Project X'... "

I wouldn't be so sure. I had a proposal very like this on my desk about 10 years ago when I worked for A Very Large Telecom company.

2
0
Bronze badge
Holmes

Internet drones?

Next: U.S. govt sends Internet balloon drones over countries with a high incidence of censorship.

0
0

Re: Internet drones?

You need a ground antenna, which the censoring country can prevent.

0
0
Gold badge

Re: Internet drones?

You need a ground antenna, which the censoring country can prevent.

Hmm, could this not be built on a MANET construct? In that case you only need to provide the Internet feed to the edge of the cloud, which may be conveniently reside on the safe side of the border.

0
0
Bronze badge
Windows

Re: Internet drones?

In the history of Taiwan-China hostilities, Taiwan used to drop cheap radio sets on Chinese mainland, pre-tuned to their propaganda stations. Standalone sat-phone type portable devices e.g. a glorified MiFi, should do the trick.

0
0
Silver badge

Who needs spy satellites

I wonder if it will give them clearer pictures of everything they don't have remote access to

http://what-if.xkcd.com/32/

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Target practice

Now we need a way of reliably shooting them down for fun. Launch our own balloons with remote controlled air rifle?

0
1
Silver badge
Pirate

I am trying my hardest to remember the hoax news article. Ah yes that's right The Pirate Bay proclaimed that they would user drones \ balloons.

Like this

0
0
Silver badge
Coat

Project Loony?

Sorry, too obvious, really

0
0
Pint

Astronomy community would like some consultation?

When was the last time a multi-billion dollar American corporation consulted with anyone who wasn't on their board, or their legal department? The Astronomy Community wasn't consulted because Google isn't going to consult with them.

0
1

Re: Astronomy community would like some consultation?

The launch took place from Mount John Observatory under the auspices of Canterbury University and the Civil Aviation department. I'm not sure what more consultation would have been possible or appropriate.

0
0
This topic is closed for new posts.