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New AI-Based Navigation Helps Loon's Balloons Hover in Place

WIRED

High-flying balloons are bringing broadband connectivity to remote nations and post-disaster zones where cell towers have been knocked out. These "super-pressure" helium-filled polyethylene bags float 65,000 feet up in the stratosphere, above commercial planes, hurricanes, and pretty much anything else. But keeping a fleet of tennis-court-sized, internet-blasting balloons hovering over one spot has been a tricky engineering problem, just like keeping a boat floating in one place on a fast-moving river. Now researchers at Google spinoff Loon have figured out how to use a form of artificial intelligence to allow the balloon's onboard controller to predict wind speed and direction at various heights, then use that information to raise and lower the balloon accordingly. The new AI-powered navigation system opens the possibility of using stationary balloons to monitor animal migrations, the effects of climate change, or illegal cross-border wildlife or human trafficking from a relatively inexpensive platform for months at a time.


Google's Project Loon: Now AI can steer its 4G-beaming balloons to right part of sky

ZDNet

To achieve 98 days total above Peru, the balloon made nearly 20,000 adjustments. Google's new wind-predicting algorithms have kept one of its internet-beaming air balloons aloft in Peru's airspace for a total of 98 days. Google's measure for success when it comes to Project Loon isn't just keeping balloons flying for 100 days, but ensuring they're not carried out to sea by air currents where they can't deliver wireless internet to the public. Project Loon, which sits in the X unit of Google's parent Alphabet, has used human-coded algorithms to determine how high or low in the stratosphere the air balloons need to be to catch a current that will take them in the desired direction. However, as Wired reports, updates to Loon's navigational system apply machine-learning techniques to the roughly 17 million kilometers of flight data it's collected to predict wind directions at different altitudes.


Google's Internet-Beaming Balloon Gets a New Pilot: AI

WIRED

This summer, the Google X lab launched a balloon into the stratosphere over Peru, and it stayed there for 98 days. Launching balloons into the stratosphere is a usual thing for the Google X lab--or just X, as it's now called after spinning off from Google and nestling under the new umbrella called Alphabet. X is home to Project Loon, an effort to beam the Internet from the stratosphere down to people here on Earth. The hope is that these balloons can fly over areas of the globe where the Internet is otherwise unavailable and stay there long enough to provide people with a reliable connection. But there's a problem: balloons tend to float away.


Machine Learning Invades the Real World on Internet Balloons

WIRED

Astro Teller knows how to draw attention. He was wearing his rollerblades on Thursday when he glided into a roomful of reporters to announce that Project Loon--Alphabet's wacky-sounding plan to deliver the internet to the world's farthest-flung places via giant balloons--is even closer to reality than the company previously thought. It was a made-for-the-press moment, but Teller buried the lede. It's cool that these balloons may soon start broadcasting internet signals from the stratosphere. But the bigger deal here is that machine learning is moving beyond its digital origins into the real world.


Machine Learning Invades the Real World on Internet Balloons

#artificialintelligence

Astro Teller knows how to draw attention. He was wearing his rollerblades on Thursday when he glided into a roomful of reporters to announce that Project Loon--Alphabet's wacky-sounding plan to deliver the internet to the world's farthest-flung places via giant balloons--is even closer to reality than the company previously thought. It was a made-for-the-press moment, but Teller buried the lede. It's cool that these balloons may soon start broadcasting internet signals from the stratosphere. But the bigger deal here is that machine learning is moving beyond its digital origins into the real world.