There's a Plan for Internet Failure Based on Google's Balloons, and It Involves Lasers

There’s a Plan for Internet Failure Based on Google’s Balloons, and It Involves Lasers

Alphabet’s Loon project, which aimed to deliver the internet via a series of balloons, was shut down last year – but the tech associated with it has been spun off into a startup that ditches floating platforms and aims to use lasers and the cloud to deliver internet to remote locations. The company inheriting the Google technology is called Aalyria, and although CNBC reports that Alphabet has a minority stake in it, it will no longer be a direct subsidiary of Google’s shell company.

Aalyria has two main goals: Tightbeam, a laser communication system that uses beams of light to transmit data between base stations and terminals, and Spacetime, the cloud-based software that is intended to juggle online connections. constant evolution. Spacetime was originally intended to predict how Loon’s balloons moved and to keep the links between them strong; now its job is to predict when a Tightbeam station (which can be ground-based or satellite-based) will need to hand off its connection to a moving object, like an airplane or boat.

According to a report by Bloomberg, Aalyria is now selling its software and plans to sell Tightbeam hardware next year. In theory, the two could work together or separately – Spacetime is not limited to laser-based systems.

Tightbeam is intended to transmit data in the same way as a fiber optic cable, broadcasting light from one point to another. It’s just about doing it over the air instead of using a physical connection, which obviously makes it more flexible, especially over longer distances. The company claims the system is incredibly fast: “100 to 1000 times faster than anything available today,” according to a press release. That’s, it seems, the power of the damn laser beams – though they have potential reliability drawbacks that physical fiber doesn’t, which we’ll get to in a moment. (The Dr. Evil reference comes straight from Aalyria; Bloomberg says his lab has “sculptures of sharks with laser beams attached to their heads”.)

Bloomberg notes that Tightbeam originated from a Google project called Sonora, which the company hasn’t talked about publicly. However, Alphabet had another separate Loon-related laser project that emerged: Project Taara, which provided internet service in Africa using lasers originally intended to connect balloons together.

The Taara project used these lasers, known as free-space optical communications links, to augment traditional fiber runs, but they could theoretically be used in places where cable runs would be impossible or complicated (such as crossing a gorge, canyon or river, for example). At the time, Taara’s team said the system was relatively resistant to obstacles like mist, light rain and birds, but admitted that Africa’s climate was more ideal than San Francisco’s. , where the fog is so constant that it has its own Wikipedia. article.

Aalyria says she has her own way of dealing with disturbances, which involves compensating for how something like rain or dust would distort or scatter the light used to transmit data (an important consideration when sending that light into air and not the protected glass strands that make up fiber optic cables).

The company seems to be looking to take on SpaceX in terms of the services it offers. According to CNBC, it hopes its laser communication technology will be used to provide services for aircraft, ships, cellular connectivity and satellite communications. Using more radio waves, Starlink is beginning to provide Wi-Fi to select airlines and cruise ships as well as RVs and home Internet customers. SpaceX also transmits information from space. Bloomberg notes that some Tightbeam tests have involved ground stations sending a signal at the top to airplanes, and the company’s website says something similar could also be done to send signals to satellites.

When it comes to improving cellular connectivity, Aalyria has plenty of competition from satellite companies like Globalstar (Apple’s partner for its recently announced emergency satellite SOS feature), SpaceX and T-Mobile, AST SpaceMobile, Lynk Global and Amazon, which has an agreement with Verizon to provide backhaul services for remote cell towers via Project Kuiper satellites.

At the moment, Aalyria is small: 26 people, according to Bloomberg. And while it has the right to use Google’s technology, there’s a difference between making and testing cool technology and being able to sell it for real-world use – something Alphabet itself does. even found out with Loon’s pilot commercial service in Kenya.

Still, the idea was apparently attractive enough to attract some investors, including the US Department of Defense. Whether you’re an evil supervillain trying to spruce up your lair or a company trying to “interconnect everything that exists today with everything that exists tomorrow,” as Aalyria CEO Chris Taylor put it. . Bloomberglasers are still very effective at capturing the imagination.

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