Google: Our broadband balloons, delivery drone projects are ready for take-off

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Google’s Loon balloon-based internet project and its Wing autonomous delivery drone project are to become independent businesses within parent company Alphabet.

The two projects started off as part of Google’s X division, which aims to work on particularly ambitious ‘moonshot’-style projects with the aim of making a significant (10 times, hence the X) impact on hard-to-solve problems.

The two projects will now operate as independent companies as part of Alphabet’s Other Bets group, which currently includes self-driving car specialist Waymo, health company Verily and cybersecurity outfit Chronicle.

Project Wing is an autonomous delivery drone service, which Google hopes can reduce traffic congestion in cities, and help ease the CO2 emissions that come from the transportation of goods.

Google’s Project Loon aims to uses balloons floating at very high altitude to deliver internet access; its balloons have flown over 25 million kilometres of test flights to date, with one balloon surviving for 190 days in the stratosphere.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

Last month Facebook abandoned its plans to build its own high-altitude drones to deliver internet access to remote areas.

Joining Other Bets means the projects have matured, but there is likely a way to go before they start making Google much money. The Other Bets group generated $150m in revenue according to Alphabet’s Q1 2018 filing — and an operating loss of $571m.

“Today, unlike when they started as X projects, Loon and Wing seem a long way from crazy,” said Astro Teller, head of Google X.

He said Loon will work with mobile-network operators globally to bring internet access to unconnected and under-connected people around the world, while Wing will continue building a drone delivery system and an unmanned, traffic management platform to safely route drones through our skies.

“X’s job is to create radical new technologies and build a bridge from an idea to a proven concept,” said Teller.

“Now that the foundational technology for these projects is built, Loon and Wing are ready to take their products into the world; this is work best done outside of the prototyping-focused environment of X.”

He said with Loon and Wing leaving X, the division would now turn its resources to new moonshot adventures, as well as its ongoing work in robotics, free-space optics — and Google Glass.

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