Google spending millions in Chch

01:36, Jun 17 2013
LIFT OFF: Google's Project X division conducts experiments in Tekapo.

While the eyes of most New Zealanders were watching the All Blacks at the weekend, the global gaze was not on the rugby field, but on an initiative with a an unlikely name: Project Loon.

Loon - short for balloon - demands our attention for two reasons.

First, it is the most recent project to come out of a unit in Google simply called "X".

This is a group of some of the most intelligent people in the world, focused on solving complex problems.

They have been spearheading the commercial release of a driverless car and have also developed a computer display that integrates with a pair of glasses (called "Glass".)

Loon aims to bring internet access to people around the world in remote and poor regions where satellite connections are too expensive.


It uses high-altitude balloons as cheap relay stations to achieve this and Google X has invested millions into solving an issue that others have ignored.

There are compelling reasons for this project, not least of which is that access to information now provides an opportunity to break cycles of poverty.

The second reason why Project Loon demands our attention is that Google decided to launch and test the project in Christchurch.

For the past few weeks Google has been shipping vast quantities of equipment to a warehouse in the eastern suburbs and employing a lot of local people to assist in the launch. Film crews, helicopter pilots, catering teams, logistics specialists, drivers and guides have all been hired.

In addition, some of Google's best people have been in Christchurch for the past few weeks working incredibly long hours to ensure success.

I was at the launch of Project Loon on Saturday and was astounded that Google X unveiled its latest project here.

Without a doubt, I regard this as the most exciting thing to happen in this city for years and an opportunity that Christchurch should be embracing.

It is exciting because the growth of a city hinges on its ability to attract talented people from around the world.

The sort of people I am referring to are those who could work anywhere and name their conditions of employment at the same time.

These are the people who talk about the place where they live, who start small businesses and who attract other smart people.

During the past few weeks we have had some of the most gifted people in the world in our city, backed by one of the world's most successful businesses. If Google had held a bidding contest for the right to launch Project Loon, cities around the world would have spent millions trying to attract them.

Instead, Google has spent millions in our city and, all going well, this will continue as Google maintains its Christchurch base.

So what can we do to maintain their interest in our city? The Government should be pulling out the stops to make it easy for Google to be based here. Local government should be rolling out the red carpet for the project team.

And what can you do?

That is easy.

If you happen to see one of the Google team in a cafe, a bar, or if you bump into them in the street, do one thing - thank them.

Thank them for coming to Christchurch, and ask them if there is anything you can do to help.

They could be anywhere in the world right now but they are here and we should be thanking them.

Roger Dennis is the founder of the Sensing City project for Christchurch.

The Press