Alphabet pulled the plug on Project Loon Thursday, releasing all the air from X — the Moonshot Factory venture that Google hoped would provide internet access to rural communities using giant balloons.
“Sadly, despite the team’s groundbreaking technical achievements over the last 9 years — doing many things previously thought impossible, like precisely navigating balloons in the stratosphere, creating a mesh network in the sky, or developing balloons that can withstand the harsh conditions of the stratosphere for more than a year — the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped,” Astro Teller, captain of Moonshots, wrote in a post.
In the first nine months of 2020, Alphabet’s operating income losses came to $3,340,000,000 on Other Bets, which includes projects in X, according to the company’s 10Q filing.
When Google first announced Loon nine years ago, it touted bringing internet service to rural areas that might not otherwise have access. The experiment did see some successes such as helping restore cell service in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Farmers in New Zealand allowed the team to attach a balloon communications hub to their house in 2013.
The group also managed to harness the power of the balloons, using machine-learning algorithms to direct, rather than letting the balloon float freely, complex navigational maneuvers that provided service to users.
Now that the company has left behind the dream of launching a series of balloons, it has moved on to other projects like Wing, an autonomous delivery drone.
In September, Alphabet announced a deal with Walgreens to deliver food, beverages and healthcare products via drone. The beta began in Christianburg, Virginia, delivering products to local residents.
Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued rules that allow small drones to fly at night in the United States. It also mandated remote identification technology for nearly all drones.
New FAA rules eliminate requirements that drones connect to the internet to transmit location data, but rather requires them to broadcast remote ID messages via radio frequency broadcast.
Wing grappled with the Trump administration over those rules mandating broadcast-based remote identification, saying they should be revised to allow for internet-based tracking.
One of the biggest issues with drones, which can now carry up to 500 pounds, has become the increase in drug smugglers. Software now allows tech-savvy flyers to use algorithms to make radar-detection systems identify the drone as a bird.