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Googling from great heights

Fabric Structures, Projects | October 1, 2013 | By:

Rural, remote and developing areas of the world may soon have access to the Internet, if a promising pilot project recently launched by Google takes flight. Google is working with Raven Industries Inc., Sioux Falls, S.D., on a plan to use high-altitude balloons with equipment that will provide high-speed wireless internet access to locations everywhere. Raven Aerostar, a division of Raven Industries that focuses on highly technical aerospace and surveillance technologies, supplied Google with 30 high-altitude balloons for a trial run in New Zealand in June. The “Project Loon” trial aimed to provide Internet connectivity to devices within a nearly 3,861-square-mile area.

Raven Aerostar’s lighter-than-air technology is used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to carry scientific instruments on a regular basis to altitudes above 99 percent of the earth’s atmosphere. Its stratospheric balloons hold nearly all records for size, altitude, endurance and payload capacity. The Project Loon balloons are 60 feet tall, fly at 66,000 feet and include sophisticated technology to move the balloon up and down to take advantage of wind speed and direction.

Raven Engineered Films, another Raven Industries division, manufactured the high-quality, ultra-thin polymer film for the balloon envelope assembly. Google has developed software for managing a fleet of balloons, hoping to turn them into a viable worldwide platform. “Solving the challenge of improved Internet access in developing nations and rural areas has the potential to improve and save lives,” says Dan Rykhus, president and CEO of Raven Industries. Read more about the promising collaboration at the Raven Industries website.

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