Google's parent company Alphabet will be winding down its internet balloon firm Loon. The firm's CEO Alastair Westgarth made the announcement on Friday, while pointing out that the company's demise was due to a lack of willing partners and an inability to build a sustainable business model. "While we've found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven't found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business," he wrote in a Medium blog post. "Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn't make breaking this news any easier. Today, I'm sad to share that Loon will be winding down."
Alphabet's Loon has shifted to a different type of navigation system for its internet-beaming balloons. Rather than relying on algorithms designed by humans, the balloons are using an artificial intelligence system Loon developed with Google AI over the last few years. A reinforcement learning (RL) system is now in charge of navigation for a fleet of balloons over Kenya, where Loon switched on its first commercial service earlier this year. Loon says this is the first use of an RL model in "a production aerospace system." It also noted the "development is exciting because it shows that reinforcement learning can be applied to real-world use cases."
Efficiently navigating a superpressure balloon in the stratosphere1 requires the integration of a multitude of cues, such as wind speed and solar elevation, and the process is complicated by forecast errors and sparse wind measurements. Coupled with the need to make decisions in real time, these factors rule out the use of conventional control techniques2,3. Here we describe the use of reinforcement learning4,5 to create a high-performing flight controller. Our algorithm uses data augmentation6,7 and a self-correcting design to overcome the key technical challenge of reinforcement learning from imperfect data, which has proved to be a major obstacle to its application to physical systems8. We deployed our controller to station Loon superpressure balloons at multiple locations across the globe, including a 39-day controlled experiment over the Pacific Ocean.
Here is building some kind of in-car navigation system powered by Amazon's Alexa assistant. The new "one-stop solution for automakers," called Here Navigation On-Demand, will be sold to manufacturers as (shudder) software-as-a-service. In layman's terms, that means it will sit on top of existing infotainment platforms and operating systems. Details are light at the moment, but Here says it will be a truly "voice-first car navigation experience that keeps users focused on the road." We also know that the software will leverage Alexa Auto, the development kit that Amazon released last August, to give drivers personalized advice.