It's a bird, it's a plane, it's ... an Internet-delivering balloon. This year, Google is piloting Project Loon, a program that plans to launch high-flying balloons into the stratosphere to fly over developing countries and connect people in remote areas with Internet access.
Alphabet X (formerly known as Google X), the division which develops some of the company's more ambitious and groundbreaking projects, spotlighted the program at the annual TED conference in Vancouver this week, Re/Code reports.
Project Loon has gone through a lot of trial-and-error testing, and Alphabet X lab chief Astro Teller told the TED crowd that "we busted a lot of balloons" in the process. The first test flight took place in 2013 when a balloon was launched over New Zealand. More tests have been conducted in California and Brazil.
Now, the project is being tested in earnest. On Monday, the first of three planned test balloons entered Sri Lankan airspace. Back in October, Alphabet announced that Project Loon would soon make its presence known in the skies over Indonesia, as well.
At TED, Teller said the project's balloons are able to deliver roughly 15 megabits-per-second Web access -- enough to support video content -- an improvement over earlier connections.
The technology is fairly simple. The Alphabet balloons travel through the stratosphere -- twice as high as airplanes -- powered along by wind currents. Telecommunication companies partnering with the tech company share their cellular spectrum, giving people on the ground the chance to connect to the balloon network from their wireless, LTE-enabled devices. This cellular signal passes along the balloon network and then is transmitted back down to users below, according to the project's website.
So, what's next for this project? The company says it's in talks with various carriers globally, and projects that more than five billion people will have Web access in the next five to 10 years.
"It will change the world in ways we cannot possibly imagine," Teller added.