When sheep farmer Urbanus Botha found a crashed balloon in the Karoo semi-desert in the north of South Africa, he initially thought it might be a weather balloon. However, according to a report in the Beeld newspaper, its “Google[x]” markings showed it be one of the Project Loon test balloons.
Loon is a scheme that will employ a mesh-networked ring of balloons that will circumnavigate the globe — each balloon is supposed to make about three round-trips before making a controlled landing. The balloons relay 4G connectivity to people below, with the intention being to service those who haven’t yet got fixed or mobile internet infrastructure or whose infrastructure has been damaged by natural disasters.
[company]Google[/company] began tests in South Africa a couple months back and is also testing the balloons in New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and California. There have already been a couple of reported crashes – one into power lines in Washington State in the U.S., and one into the sea off the New Zealand coast. But that’s what testing’s all about, I guess.
According to the Afrikaans-language Beeld report (relayed in English by South Africa’s Times Live) , a Google engineer confirmed to Botha and his family that the photographed components looked like Google’s, and will send a team to retrieve them. The Loon project is one of several being run by the “moonshot”-targeting Google[x] team (generally just styled as “Google X”), which is also working on self-driving cars, smart glasses, glucose-measuring contact lenses, delivery drones, and developing baseline measurements for what a healthy human looks like.