Project Loon has been in the sky for 1 million hours
Alphabet's remote connectivity hot air balloons have flown 40 million kilometers.
Corinne ReichertSenior Writer
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently oversees the CNET breaking news desk for the West Coast. Corinne covers everything from phones, social media and security to movies, politics, 5G and pop culture. In her spare time, she watches soccer games, F1 races and Disney movies.
Watch this: Project Loon headed to help Puerto Rico
Automation software collects wind forecast data, builds maps of where to travel and then processes each balloon's observation so changes can be made to follow that map. It is this software that directs the balloon's movements, not the 24/7 team of engineers monitoring them, head of Engineering Salvatore Candido said.
According to Candido, the first time he saw a balloon deciding to zig where a human would have chosen to zag, he had to "stare for a while at the strategy the algorithm was trying to execute" before realizing he had been outsmarted by the software.
"The first balloon allowed to fully execute this technique set a flight time record from Puerto Rico to Peru," Candido said. "I had never simultaneously felt smarter and dumber at the same time."
Balloons also choose when to loiter in an area to wait for winds to change, and fly in figure 8 patterns to maintain a constant LTE signal over an area for longer periods.