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Rescue helicopter sent to 'save' Google Project Loon WiFi balloon

Emergency call was nothing but hot air
Fri Jun 20 2014, 16:36
A Network in the Sky

GOOGLE'S SKY HIGH ambitions for a fleet of WiFi enabled weather balloons were brought back down to earth after a pedestrian mistook one for a light aircraft in peril and alerted emergency services.

A rescue helicopter was sent to the scene of the fallen balloon, which had reached the end of its natural lifespan of roughly 100 days, but had caught Google's Project Loon team by surprise, and as a result, its descent was unmonitored.

As well as the helicopter, a volunteer lifeboat was scrambled to the site of the crash that actually wasn't an emergency incident, near Christchurch, New Zealand.

Project Loon, which began testing in 2013, is designed to offer a means of bringing WiFi signals to remote areas with the aim of helping communities in poor areas get online. The network of patch antennas on the balloons offers users speeds roughly equivalent to those achieved from a 3G dongle.

Google spokesman Johnny Luu told New Zealand news website Stuff that the company recognised it made a mistake.

"We will get in touch with the Westpac rescue helicopter crew to reimburse them for the mistaken rescue flight," he said.

Project Loon plans to create a network of 400 balloons around the globe offering continuous WiFi coverage to all within its footprint. Each is fitted with a transponder signal so it can be detected by nearby aircraft.

Support for Project Loon is not universal, with Microsoft founder Bill Gates questioning whether Google's research could be better spent on curing malaria in poor communities, rather than bringing them Doge memes and photos of Brad and Angelina. µ


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