Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the world's population does not yet have Internet access. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters. Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. They are carried around the Earth by winds and they can be steered by rising or descending to an altitude with winds moving in the desired direction. People connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal bounces from balloon to balloon, then to the global Internet back on Earth. Google's pilot test began in June of this year over New Zealand. Today's patent report presents you with a basic overview of Google's Project Loon from the perspective of their patent pending invention.
Google's Patent Background
Computing devices such as personal computers, laptop computers, tablet computers, cellular phones, and countless types of Internet-capable devices are increasingly prevalent in numerous aspects of modern life. As such, the demand for data connectivity via the Internet, cellular data networks, and other such networks, is growing. However, there are many areas of the world where data connectivity is still unavailable, or if available, is unreliable and/or costly. Accordingly, additional network infrastructure is desirable.
In a first aspect, a method is provided. The method includes determining a projected change in bandwidth demand in a specific area during a specified future time period. The method also includes repositioning one or more balloons in a high-balloon network based on the projected change in bandwidth demand. The method also includes providing, using the one or more balloons in the high-altitude balloon network, at least a portion of the bandwidth demanded in the specified area during the specified future time period.
In a second aspect, a system is provided. The system includes at least one balloon. The at least one balloon is in a high-altitude balloon network. The system also includes a controller. The controller is configured to: i) determine a projected change in bandwidth demand in a specified area during a specified future time period; and ii) control a respective position of the at least one balloon based on the projected change in bandwidth demand. The at least one balloon is configured to provide at least a portion of the bandwidth demanded in the specified area during the specified future time period.
In a third aspect, a non-transitory computer readable medium having stored instructions is provided. The instructions are executable by a computing device to cause the computing device to perform functions. The functions include determining a projected change in bandwidth demand in a specified area during a specified future time period. The functions also include causing a controller to reposition one or more balloons in a high-altitude balloon network based on the projected change in bandwidth demand and causing the one or more balloons in the high-altitude balloon network to provide at least a portion of the bandwidth demanded in the specified area during the specified future time period.
Control of Balloons in a Balloon Network
According to Google, mesh networking and/or station-keeping functions may be centralized. For example, FIG. 2 is a block diagram illustrating a balloon-network control system, according to an example embodiment. In particular, FIG. 2 shows a distributed control system, which includes a central control system 200 and a number of regional control-systems 202A to 202B. Such a control system may be configured to coordinate certain functionality for balloon network 204, and as such, may be configured to control and/or coordinate certain functions for balloons 206A to 206I.
Example Balloon Configuration
Google notes that various types of balloon systems may be incorporated in an example balloon network. As noted below, an example embodiment may utilize high-altitude balloons, which could typically operate in an altitude range between 18 km and 25 km.
Google's patent FIG. 3 shows a high-altitude balloon 300 includes an envelope 302, a skirt 304, a payload 306, and a cut-down system 308, which is attached between the balloon and the payload.
Google states that the envelope and skirt may take various forms, which may be currently well-known or yet to be developed. For instance, the envelope and/or skirt may be made of materials including metalized Mylar or BoPet. Additionally or alternatively, some or all of the envelope and/or skirt may be constructed from a highly-flexible latex material or a rubber material such as chloroprene. Other materials are also possible. Further, the shape and size of the envelope and skirt may vary depending upon the particular implementation. Additionally, the envelope may be filled with various different types of gases, such as helium and/or hydrogen. Other types of gases are possible as well.
Google notes that the payload of the balloon may include a processor 313 and on-board data storage, such as memory 314. The payload of the balloon may also include various other types of equipment and systems to provide a number of different functions. For example, the payload may include an optical communication system 316, which may transmit optical signals via an ultra-bright LED system 320, and which may receive optical signals via an optical-communication receiver 322 (e.g., a photodiode receiver system).
Further, the payload may include an RF communication system 318, which may transmit and/or receive RF communications via an antenna system 340.
The payload may also include a power supply 326 to supply power to the various components of the balloon. The power supply could include a rechargeable battery. In other embodiments, the power supply may additionally or alternatively represent other means known in the art for producing power. In addition, the balloon may include a solar power generation system 327. The solar power generation system may include solar panels and could be used to generate power that charges and/or is distributed by the power supply.
The payload may additionally include a positioning system 324. The positioning system could include, for example, a global positioning system (GPS), an inertial navigation system, and/or a star-tracking system. The positioning system may additionally or alternatively include various motion sensors (e.g., accelerometers, magnetometers, gyroscopes, and/or compasses).
The positioning system may additionally or alternatively include one or more video and/or still cameras, and/or various sensors for capturing environmental data.
In another embodiment Google states that a high-altitude-balloon network may include super-node balloons, which communicate with one another via optical links, as well as sub-node balloons, which communicate with super-node balloons via RF links. Generally, the optical links between super-node balloons may be configured to have more bandwidth than the RF links between super-node and sub-node balloons. As such, the super-node balloons may function as the backbone of the balloon network, while the sub-nodes may provide sub-networks providing access to the balloon network and/or connecting the balloon network to other networks.
The Projected Change in Bandwidth
In yet another embodiment, Google states that the projected change in bandwidth could be determined based on an advance bandwidth request. The advance bandwidth request could be made by an individual user, a user delegate, a group of users, a company, an event organizer, a network planner, or any other entity that could anticipate a future need for bandwidth at a specified location.
Advance bandwidth requests could be originated from entities that need not be users of the high-altitude balloon network. For example, a city government could initiate an advance bandwidth request in advance of a music concert that could be scheduled for an upcoming evening at a stadium within the city limits. The advance bandwidth request could imply an increased bandwidth need in and around the stadium during the music concert even if the city government itself is not a user of the balloon network.
Determining the projected change in bandwidth demand could also be performed in an implicit manner based on available information. For example, a city government or other entity could publish an `events calendar` that could be publicly available (e.g., via print media, a website, or social media). A controller of the balloon network could determine the projected change in bandwidth based on the publicly available information.
For instance, the controller of the balloon network may anticipate greater than average bandwidth needs based on an upcoming public festival or air show and may anticipate lower than average bandwidth needs on days without many large events.
It's All About Project Loon
Google filed their patent application back in Q2 2012 and the US Patent Office published earlier this quarter. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time. To learn more about Google's Project Loon, see their special website.
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