Project Loon Does not Pose a Threat, Says Google
Feb 09 2016
No, it’s not an organised schedule of publicity stunts à la Project Mayhem in ‘Fight Club’. Though Project Loon, the title of Google’s latest venture, may sound a little unconventional, it’s really a straightforward scheme aimed at making the internet accessible to everyone, regardless of the remoteness of their location.
What’s more, it’s apparently completely harmless to humans, animals and the environment as well – and Google have wasted no time in explaining its safety to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States.
What is Project Loon?
Project Loon is a research and development (R&D) enterprise undertaken by Google X with the explicit aim of bringing fast, reliable and low cost internet to even the most rural of areas. The internet search engine tycoon hopes to achieve this by launching huge balloons tens of thousands of metres in the air, acting as a unique wireless network access point in places with no or limited internet service providers (ISPs).
The balloons will be strategically placed at altitudes of around 20,000m in the stratosphere and will interact (both via transmission and reception of signals) with antennae grounded on Earth. These antennae are expected to be directed towards the sky and placed at specific locations to provide maximum coverage to those in remote areas.
The scheme was first launched in 2013 with the release of 30 balloons over rural parts of New Zealand. Though no official launch date for the project proper has been set, further testing is expected in Australia, Argentina and Chile with the release of hundreds more balloons in the very near future.
The Opposition to Project Loon
Just as with any burgeoning technology, there has predictably been opposition to Google’s pet project. A similar outcry was raised a few years ago when drone technology was deployed for the first time, though rather than harming the environment as initially feared, it now appears that drones can actually have a positive effect on our ability to monitor the state of the Earth's atmosphere.
This time, concerns have been raised that the radio frequencies (RF) emitted and received by the balloons in question could have detrimental effects on human, animal and plant health. However, Google has moved quickly to quash such rumours.
“The proposed experimental operations in fact present vastly less risk from RF exposure than other transmissions the Commission routinely authorizes. Thus, although we respect that the commenters’ concerns are genuinely held, there is no factual basis for them,” explained Google in a letter addressed directly to the FCC. “Even if an airborne transmitter were aimed precisely at a person on the ground directly below it, the signal strength received on the ground would be millions of times weaker than FCC limits.”
Another objection that has been raised is that the project might disrupt existing wireless operations of internet companies. While there is probably more basis in this complaint, it merely communicates an unwillingness to share the market of rural areas rather than any genuine grievance in terms of law or morality.
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