Alphabet, the parent company of Google, announced the closure of Loon, its Internet balloon company that provided Internet access to rural and remote areas using high-altitude balloons flying in the stratosphere. Alphabet found Loon’s business model unstable.
Loon chief executive officer Alastair Westgarth explains this decision saying that the project has not been able to bring costs low enough to build a long-term and sustainable business.
“While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier,” Westgarth wrote in a blog post on Medium.
The Loon Project helped develop access to the Internet in hard-to-reach regions and areas affected by natural disasters, like in Puerto Rico in 2017 after Hurricane Maria swept across the island, using balloons flying in the stratosphere. Stratospheric balloons could provide data transmission at speeds of up to 20 Gbps and operated at an altitude of 18 thousand meters.
The project was created in 2013 by Alphabet as part of X, Alphabet’s self-described Moonshot Factory for experimental projects. Loon became an independent entity within Alphabet in 2018.
Last year, Loon also launched its services in Kenya, marking the first commercial launch of such service in the region, and now it will continue to operate there until March to ensure “operations are wrapped up safely and smoothly.”
Loon is also establishing a $10 million fund to support non-profit organizations and businesses that focus on education, entrepreneurship, and the Internet in Kenya.
X Captain of Moonshots Astro Teller also said in another blog post: “The road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped. So we’ve made the difficult decision to close down Loon. In the coming months, we’ll begin winding down operations and it will no longer be an Other Bet within Alphabet.”
The employees of Loon will be placed in other roles at Google, Alphabet, and X Development, a subsidiary of Alphabet, the main objective of which is solving the world’s most concerning issues.
Loon is not the only moonshot that Alphabet has shut down. It also closed Makani, a company that planned to use wind turbines attached to kites to generate renewable electricity, and Project Foghorn, which was working on how to generate clean fuel from seawater.