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It was an admittedly crazy project in the first place: Loon, a much-hyped project aiming to deliver internet via helium balloons, will be shut down, Google’s parent company Alphabet said late Thursday.
Formed nearly a decade ago in the tech giant’s ‘moonshot’-focused research lab, X, it was hoped to use the balloons to send Internet services to areas limited to no Internet access. Although the numbers are hard to come by, an estimated 3 to 4 billion people in the world today are still unable to shop online (or read this newsletter).
So it makes sense that many tech giants and flashy billionaires view the practice as a major business opportunity: Elon Musk has Starlink; Richard Branson and SoftBank have OneWeb; Jeff Bezos’s Amazon has Project Kuiper. While the above-mentioned projects focused on sending satellites into space, Loon focused on high-altitude balloons.
However, as with moonshot betting, it doesn’t always work.
“While we’ve found some willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to keep costs low enough to build a long-term sustainable business,” Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon, wrote in a blog post. “Today I am sorry to share that Loon will be phasing out.”
Here’s a good one Wired breakdown of dynamics: Yes, there are many people who do not have internet connection in the world. But many of these disadvantaged population groups cannot afford the services of Loon or are simply not interested in the Internet. That means no financial earnings for Alphabet – and that’s how the project went.
But the makers of Loon were aware of this possible future. “The idea may sound a bit crazy – and that’s part of why we call it Project Loon – but there’s solid science behind it,” wrote Mike Cassidy in 2013 of the project’s launch. Cassidy ran the company at the time.
I can’t help but wonder, what happened to the capital of its outside investors? SoftBank-backed HAPSMobile injected $ 125 million into the business in 2019 as the duo worked on airborne internet connectivity equipment. I personally have no answers there.
Finance aside, Loon has not been without success. It led a pilot project in Kenya. It has also managed to create a navigation system operated by A.I.
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