Google Project Loon Causes Panic in New Zealand; Fallen Balloon Mistaken for Wrecked Plane

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Google Signage
The Google signage is seen at the company's offices in New York January 8, 2013. Reuters/Andrew Kelly

Google's Loon project continues testing in New Zealand as balloons resembling jellyfishes float over skies to beam Wi-Fi. Last week, a balloon fell off the coast of New Zealand's South Island and terrified a bystander who called emergency services thinking it was a plane crash.

According to reports, a rescue helicopter responded to the "crash site". The helicopter located Google's Loon and confirmed it was a balloon and not an aircraft. The Loon balloons often fly at twice the altitude of commercial planes and coordinate with authorities in air traffic control.

The authorities had initially identified the object in the ocean as a balloon but sent rescue helicopters and boats to make sure it was not an aircraft.

Reports said Google had offered to reimburse New Zealand's local emergency services for "wasting their time". A spokesperson said it was great to hear Google's request to pay for the expenses of rescue efforts even if there was nothing to rescue.

Google had begun testing its Wi-Fi balloons in New Zealand in June 2013 and assigned a team to recover fallen balloons.

Project Loon is an ambitious plan, if successful, could bring Internet access to remote areas in the world. Google is looking towards the sky for connecting the rest of the world's population who couldn't afford a Web service or is completely located away from areas with working ISPs.

Google will be launching a network of balloons containing network hardware soon around the world. Reports said the balloons will float about 20 kilometres or 12.4 miles in the air before they naturally carried by winds within the stratosphere. 

When the balloons for Project Loon will reach the air, the attached network devices would be able to communicate using a special Internet antenna which will also be attached to a person's house.  Each of the Project Loon balloons will also send signals to and from other balloons launched in the air.  The network of balloons will depend on the local ISP's Internet connection.

Google has designed the balloons to filter out other signals and concentrate on providing Internet access to remote users on the ground.  A team from Google will communicate with air traffic control authorities in the area and let them know if Project Loon balloons will be launched in the area.  

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