Editorial: Heads in the clouds

PETER O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 14/03/2014

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OPINION: Loon. Definition: A simple-minded or stupid person.

Loony: Foolish or ridiculous.

Project Loon: Google initiative to provide internet coverage using a series of balloons.

Why call it Project Loon? "Because it sounds a bit crazy," says project boss Mike Cassidy, "but there's solid science behind it."

And crazy it sounds, but at least the people at Google have a sense of humour about it.

The project has particular interest here because the test phase is being conducted from Tekapo. This is because, ultimately, the aim is to provide internet cover to third world countries. Like those in Africa.

Yes, difficult to see the link there.

And to remote rural areas. Okay, that makes more sense.

And Tekapo is beneath the stratospheric winds that circle the globe and by which the balloons are supposed to travel, 20 or so kilometres up. Up out of the way of planes.

So how is the trial going? Well, it is living up to its far-fetched billing. The test balloons are having to be fetched from far and wide.

It seems Google lost 14 of the first 30 balloons sent up in June. It did have a boat off the east coast to collect them, but we all know how predictable winds are. One balloon apparently ended up in South America. Now that would have been a talking point.

Last week more balloons were sent up, but it is a bit early to tell how they've fared. Maybe they're still looking for them.

One day there may well be a ring of balloons circling the earth, their heights being altered to allow them to shift between the currents, but it seems a mighty primitive way to deliver new technology. Wouldn't satellites be more reliable?

Google wants to make the internet readily available on a cost-effective basis to everyone in the world, and right now five or six billion people don't have access.

As someone who has had such access for some years now, my question is, why?

Why give everyone access? Leave the poor sods alone.

Bill Gates puts it far better.

"When you're dying of malaria, I suppose you'll look up and see that balloon, and I'm not sure how it'll help you. When a kid gets diarrhoea, no, there's no website that relieves that."

Still, it's hard to stop progress. If you can call balloons progress.

Come to think of it, if you can call the internet progress.

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- The Timaru Herald

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