Google could pilot internet balloons in Brazil next year

Friday, October 25, 2013

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) could run pilots of its hot-air internet balloons with the Brazilian federal government in 2014, the company's director for public policy in Brazil, Marcel Leonardi, told reporters during the Futurecom conference in Rio de Janeiro.

Earlier this month, company representatives visited Brazil to present the initiative, called Project Loom, to local authorities. Loom involves hot air balloons flying 20km high in the stratosphere, created to take connectivity especially to remote and hardly accessible areas.

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The project is being conducted by Google X, the company's top secret department responsible for the development of highly innovative projects, which the company dubs "moonshots."

Whether or not by coincidence, by the time Google X representatives came to Brazil with the internet balloon "moonshot", the Brazilian government had revealed it had been supporting the development of a similar initiative, led by state-run telco Telebras, national space research institute (INPE), and Altave, a Brazilian start-up formed by aerospace engineers and focused on the development of lighter-than-air vehicles. The first field tests are slated for November.

"We were aware of their project," Leonardi admitted to BNamericas while talking with journalists on the sidelines of Futurecom. "But I would not say we arrived late. Besides, I think our balloons are slightly different from theirs, although I'm not completely aware of their program."

Among Google's differentials, he cited the greater heights reached by the balloons and the fact that the equipment is dynamic.

"That's why the choice for the first field tests was New Zealand. Because as Loom is a network of non-static balloons, we needed to trial them in a region mostly surrounded by the ocean, located in the lowest Earth parallels," Leonardi explained.

"We had the first connectivity tests there, and the idea is to pilot it next year in Brazil to see if it is of interest to the government," he added.