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Loon’s final flight (x.company)
285 points by sarthakjshetty 37 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 250 comments



People often make fun of Google/Alphabet for their graveyard of failed initiatives/products. While some of it might be warranted, projects like this—that strive to solve a large, global issue through somewhat charitable actions—are generous and have only increased my respect for the Google/Alphabet/X team. I hope they don't get flamed for this, and hopefully some of their research and donation funds can live on and solve the issue that Loon originally intended to one day.


I think the days of Google Moonshots are coming to a close. In general Google hasn't been very good at shooting for the moon. They've lost their leadership and vision and all that's left is a giant advertising behemoth.

Did any of their moonshots really hit the mark or even come close?


I think the main problem is they lost the edge on execution. Traditional "vision" is not strictly needed for moonshot projects; the vision for moonshots is provided by a small team working on their idea. But should the technology start panning out, the company needs to focus aggressively on finding a commercial home for this technology.

And this is where I think google (and many big companies) fail. Technologically, Loons worked. I did not believe it when I read about those, but looking at the trajectories in public ADS-B data (those balloons self-advertise) it is clear that they move as designed, doing 2D positioning using only vertical control and can stay afloat for months. Wow! Mission accomplished. But commercially, nothing happened.

I do not know if it was because business types were not sold on it and did not build a commercial case; did the technical team simply live in their own bubble not talking to the outside; something else? But a 10-year "moonshot" project that pans out technologically and fails commercially indicates that the right hand ("internal VC") does not know or care what the left hand (techies) is doing, which is the problem at the company. My 2c.


> did not build a commercial case

Selling stolen technology you tried to patent from under the company you suckered into believing into buyout, and then having those patents stripped by the Judge might have something to do with it.


Have a source on any context or additional information about this? Otherwise I have no idea what you are talking about



Well, their target market is very poor people, which is not normally a great segment to expect to be early adopters of expensive new technoogies. Also they're competing against Starlink, which is basically the same concept but in space, which is probably impossible given that LEO is well understood and Musk can launch tons of long-lived satellites quite cheap.


All good points. I am just saying that moonshot projects are supposed to be "very high risk, high reward" projects -- unlikely to work, but if they do would provide big benefits. Your points argue that this is a "high risk, no reward" project, which is not the way to run a 10-year moonshot.

Occasionally starting moonshots as "high risk, uncertain reward" is OK for a short time, but if there is no clear reward on success after a year or two it might be continued as a PR or a charity, but not a moonshot. My 2c.


Brain is doing great and Waymo probably at least hits close.


Huh, I used to work next to the Brain team, didn't realize that they started out as Google X.

Per their wiki article:

> Astro Teller has said that Google Brain paid for the entire cost of Google X

even assuming that Waymo has zero expected future profitability.


It's kinda weird to think of brain as an X project. DistBelief was developed out in the open in the main source code repo by people you think of as googlers, like Jeff. So what makes it "X"?


A need to justify X's existence?


Or Jeff just wanted it that way.

My own personal image of X was that if you had to drive to some old Air Force base to see it, it was X. Since brain was software, it doesn’t fit the model.


Waymo may / will earn them some money, either they sell it to a crazy big investor, or they license the technology out to a company backed by a crazy big investor.


Or they can expand their existing Uber-like operation to other states and countries and make money by dominating the ride sharing space


alright I'm gonna ask the naive question: how exactly does Brain make money? is it offered as an independent product? or is it's incremental contribution to the rest of Google that high? what even is Brain, to Google devs?


To me it's an umbrella for all of the projects that fell out of an initial realization (by Jeff Dean and his circle) that Google's infrastructure was large enough to put into practice a class of older ML ideas that had spent years being thought infeasible. They developed the means of training huge models, then useful models that resulted from that, and follow-on project like TPUs.


Wing?


Is Brain doing great? From a few things people have said, it sounded like Brain was struggling so Google bought Deep Mind instead. All of the really cutting edge AI stuff has come out of Deep Mind, not Brain.


Just to clarify here, Deep Mind in no way replaces Brain. The AI space, like any other space, isn't a single unified landscape. There are areas where Deep Mind is a true standard setter--particularly deep reinforcement learning (AlphaGo, for example)--and areas where Brain has been one of the standard setters--natural language processing springs to mind, where Brain has historically pushed the field forward with projects like word2vec, BERT, and the Transformer architecture generally.

Brain is also a much more general organization. They do things like develop Tensorflow, which is one of two most popular ML frameworks in the world (and until recently was far and away the most popular), and TPUs, which are ML-dedicated ASICs that have a huge impact on training and inference.

Both orgs are world class and historically important, and they certainly overlap, but they aren't replacements for one another.


I strongly disagree. Without a shadow of a doubt, the most successful/important AI model of recent times is the Transformer (from Brain). As another example, the fastest accelerators, TPUs, are from Brain. If you only look at "amount of output" and use # publications at e.g. NeurIPS as proxy, Brain vastly outperforms Deepmind. Deepmind really exceeds at flashy and showy PR releases like AlphaStar, not so much at laying the groundwork for AI breakthroughs. (Though of course AlphaFold or AlphaGo were great).


Brain is not a pure research group. It builds infrastructures/platforms for machine learning related tasks and its research part is relatively small compared to the entire organization.


They've talked about it in some cases. See https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/30/16222850/youtube-google-b...


That's what moonshots are though, there is a high statistical possibility that 0/100 makes it.


We put a man on the moon though? I thought a moonshot was hard but doable.


The internet says: "The Apollo program's total cost was about $25.4 billion, about $152 billion in today's dollars."

That's about Google's entire revenue for 2020. I don't think even Google could put a man on the moon at those rates. Literal moonshots are expensive.


That's the total cost over the decade+ the program was in existence. Divide by 10 and it becomes roughly 10% of Google's revenue.

So it wouldn't be insubstantial, but they could fund a similar effort if they really wanted to. Shareholders would have a thing or two to say about that though, which is why Elon Musk is keeping SpaceX private.


Sending 2nd rocket to the moon was much cheaper than the first one, so you can’t just divide by 10.


That's not what the poster meant. It wasn't counting rockets, but the fact that the cost was spread out over multiple years.

Yes, if it were possible to go from zero to moon in one year then that would be all of Google revenue. But spread over 10 years that's just 10% per year.


The parent comment's point is that the money spent on the space program was likely very highly weighted to the first years building that first rocket. So dividing by 10 because it was roughly a decade is probably underestimating the budget needed to get to the moon.


Yes, but even pessimistically Google could send one rocket to the moon in 10 years with only 10% revenue.


At the peak of Apollo program spending in 1966, Dreier says, NASA accounted for roughly 4.4% of the federal budget — 6.6% of discretionary spending — more than the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/apollo-11-moon-landing-how-much...

as a percentage of the yearly federal budget, it's not that extreme.

I believe the DoD budget (entirely non-NASA) is presently running around 700 billion a year.

some very quick searching tells me the total federal budget is something like 3500 billion a year. 4.4% of that would be 154bn a year.


I think SpaceX could put a man on the moon for much less? We’re currently at a few billion to put a whole horde of them on Mars I believe.


We don't have the technology to get a person to Mars or to land them when they get there. We probably have the technology to build a spaceship that they could die in on the way there - but that's the closest that we realistically have.


Surviving on the way to Mars isn't a huge leap in difficulty over a space station, and we have those on lock.


There's much greater radiation exposure away from Earth's magnetic field. I believe this is still an unsolved problem. Proposed solutions for shielding are heavy and expensive.


You just have to keep the lights on and not die of cancer for six months. The radiation isn't that bad.

Edit: The specific number is under 2 millisievert per day. And "One sievert carries with it a 5.5% chance of eventually developing fatal cancer based on the linear no-threshold model."


I though shielding with water was the way forward there.


In science fiction novels...


It's much harder if you include the return trip.


You have to keep things going for 3 years, but I think such a trip is still pretty straightforward with our current abilities.

But wow what a drawn-out load of nothing a mission like that would be.


No resupply, no spares - no chance.


There's room on board for literal tons of spares.


> We’re currently at a few billion to put a whole horde of them on Mars I believe.

Uh... don't count your Mars shots before they're hatched. Even getting robot probes to Mars is very very hard. Only about half of Mars missions have been successful. In fact, since the fall of the Soviet Union only one organisation has succeeded in putting working probes on the Martian surface: NASA/JPL.

I don't think it's impossible that SpaceX will get there, but certainly not soon and not for "a few billion". If they succeed at all, it will require drawing on years on investment and expertise by NASA.

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars-exploration/missions/historical-l...

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-53589767


I don’t think anyone was alleging that google should be literally landing people on the moon, so invoking the economics of moon landings specifically is hardly relevant.


> The internet says: "The Apollo program's total cost was about $25.4 billion, about $152 billion in today's dollars."

And SpaceX will soon have the capability to do it with zillion times less. Seems like if you really want to make it possible, you can.


> Seems like if you really want to make it possible, you can.

More like "if the hard groundwork has been done 60 years ago". It's not as if SpaceX had to quite literally invent the orbital rocket.

So after 60 years of manned spaceflight, 9 manned lunar missions, and 30 years of flying reusable crewed vehicles with a space station that has been permanently crewed since 1998 someone better do it MUCH more cheaply.

The culprit isn't just "space is hard" - it's decades of cost-plus contracts and heavy government involvement that kept costs high and results low.


A public funding source can provide that kind of support for a decade, but even for the likes of Google that's a stretch.

I prefer to think of a moonshot as longer than a longshot, whatever that might be worth.

It sure is sad though, coming from the acquisition before Google X that had just so many great players throughout.


Not really; a moonshot is a huge investment to advance the state of the art in something where we know it's possible. It's not a wild shot in the dark.

No Saturn V rocket ever failed.


Three men lost their lives in a fire in a capsule.


Well if we're nitpicking, that was the payload, not the Saturn V booster...

But unfortunate though that was, it didn't represent a fundamental uncertainty in the achievability of the goal - simply a fatal engineering mistake, which was immediately rectified.


The point is, how do you know your path is to the Saturn V and not the Soviet N-1? In the case of Google Moonshots, nobody even know if they're going to use a rocket.


I'm sure the N-1 would have worked as well, if the project had been funded (in both time and money) properly. The Soviet failure to reach the moon was a project management failure, rather than the failure of a blind risk to pay off.


Waymo seems like it's nearing its final stages. I have high hopes!


I think it's generous to say it's in its final stages. They haven't even left Phoenix have they? And even in Phoenix, it's still largely a beta project in a few predefined areas.

It certainly seems like Google's most likely moon shot to take off. But considering only a few thousand people have used it, it's not exactly a big success.


Waymo, like any and all software, will never be “complete” - but I assume you’re referring to Waymo being ready for it’s first “real” release somehow - but we still don’t know how exactly Waymo will be integrated into cars or which automakers will go with them.

That point of mine now has me wondering what Waymo will look like in 10-20 years’ time when autonomous vehicles become both ubiquitous and un-cool because it’s nothing new anymore (just like how Facebook is un-cool today). Will Waymo’s maintainers be adding new features that benefit the consumer, or will there be pressure to “monetise” it from every angle? And to what extent will brand-conscious automakers go to hide the fact they’re using Waymo, e.g. will they insist on rebranding it - not just for themselves, but between their own sub-brands (e.g. Ford vs Lincoln, or VW and Audi)?


Google has absolutely no choice but to make Waymo succeed with Apple and Tesla taking the space seriously.

It’s not a moonshot, it’s an absolute necessity.


Only if that the market you want to win in. Where's the synergy between Waymo and online ads?


What are you gonna stare at in during robotaxi ride? How about some ads?


_The_ moonshot, Waymo. People are sleeping on that you can hop in a perfectly safe robotaxi today, the ride along videos are stunning.


A robotaxi without a human driver! For some reason Waymo seems way ahead of everyone else in self-driving


As an outsider, the reason why Waymo is way ahead is clear. Extremely talented team, access to Google infrastructure and expertise, deep pockets and a culture of prioritizing safety over everything.


Maybe they are, but their service is super constrained and retains human supervision - just remote controlled.


The actual thing that self driving cars get you is "not paying for a taxi driver."

If one remote operator can supervise 10 mostly autonomous vehicles, you've gotten 90% of the economic value of full autonomy.


This ignores the cost of sending data wirelessly over cellular networks so remote operators can see the vehicle, the cost of maintaining the software and hardware on the vehicle itself, the cost of maintaining the vehicle fleet, the cost of creating and operating a consumer-facing support system (!!! for Google), the cost of dealing with the enormous amounts of data those vehicles create (even for Google this is not trivial), the cost of maintaining the special HD maps necessary for the vehicles, not to mention the sunk cost of billions spent developing it.

That's not to say you shouldn't dream big (it's a moonshot after all). But there are plenty of reasons to think it won't be viable even if they can solve the technical challenges, and that much still isn't even clear yet.


The phrase "value of full autonomy" is excluding fleet costs on purpose. It's about drivers.

Customer support is also going to be far far fewer than one person per vehicle.

The enormous amounts of data? If it's not valuable they can just discard it! Having sensors attached to something doesn't obligate you to store it forever.

Everyone knows the software/configuration costs are immense here. But that's the lion's share of the difficulty, and there's no reason to act like minor hurdles are bigger than they are.


> The enormous amounts of data? If it's not valuable they can just discard it!

I'm curious what the legal requirements for this will be. But I imagine they'd want to hold on to data of driving scenarios for at least a month, in case they get accused of wrongdoing by other drivers. If they had no data to back up their case with all those sensors, it would look awfully suspicious and essentially one witness against nobody - so they'd have to hold onto the data for however long the legal teams deem is okay.

This may sound crazy, but it's already happening at the scale of testing with just a few dozen cars.

https://arstechnica.com/cars/2018/06/gm-settles-with-motorcy...


They should keep data in case of a crash but that's a minuscule amount. I don't see any need to keep a record of everything else for a full month.


They can be accused of a crash even if there isn't a crash though. And if they have no data to back up their side of the story, why would any court believe them? In other words - people can just randomly accuse them of hit-and-runs and they'd have nothing to say otherwise.


I don't see how it's any different from accusing random people of a hit and run.

Though enough data to disprove a hit and run wouldn't actually take up very much space. Medium-resolution camera views and some acceleration data? Sure, pop a single SSD in there and it'll hold more than a month's logs.


Most importantly, their fleet could be made obsolete by personal ownership of assisted driving vehicles. So by any of car manufacturers... (Better version of Tesla autopilot for instance.)


Taxis exist today even if a lot of people own cars, there'd still be uses for them ( e.g. when flying somewhere, you won't bring your car)


They can't be remote controlled i.e. remote operators can't steer the car. They can only "answer questions" apparently.

Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/SelfDrivingCars/comments/e8bfse/way...


I don’t understand people saying full self driving is decades away. We have it always albeit in a very restricted geo fence.


Barring some radical breakthrough, progress usually follow an asymptote. Waymo has reached their asymptote after perfecting their autonomous driving for over 10 years, and is still not confident enough to launch it even in their spherical-cow geofence.

The real world is full of edge cases - cameras fogging up, proximity sensors confused by ice buildup, thick fog limiting visibility, sun low on the horizon blinding the cameras, badly marked construction sites, black ice, line markers under snow, potholes, slush, contradictory traffic signs, deep puddles, worn out ruts, suicidal wildlife, road debris, etc. etc.


The full self driving product that people expect isn’t a beta product that’s only available in a special region. To be accessible as running water, decades away is probably accurate estimation.


In the mean time we can all drive around in our self driving cars while we wait for them to become a reality? It doesn't make any sense. Either they exist, albeit in a limited form, or they don't. Does it get you from a to b in most normal daily use cases? If yes, then it counts.


I would apply the 90/90 rule here [0]. It looks ready, but I don't think their safety is up to scratch yet and I'm almost certain the cars aren't safe in adverse conditions.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninety-ninety_rule


Depends how you define things but their work with Deepmind ('Our long term aim is to solve intelligence') is interesting. I'm glad we get breakthroughs in protein folding rather than just ads.


They bought Deepmind though, they didn’t dream it up as a moonshot. Plus you can argue that keeping the talent at Deepmind accessible to Googlers contributes to the development of Google’s internal models, which does mostly contribute to their bottom line.


Never mind shooting for the moon; they were very late to a cloud game that they should have owned because they were too busy shooting for the moon.


they missed cloud not because they were too busy. They thought of their internal cloud infrastructure as a competitive advantage to be kept to themselves. Very similar to the Intel's thinking of their own fabs which has brought Intel to the current failure.

Wrt. moonshots - one need to have huge political capital inside the company to carry the high risk of large investment. I.e. one has to be Jobs or Musk. Even Yang failed. How Nadella succeeded it is kind of a miracle. It looks like there are no people of that caliber at Google these days, and without it you have a CFO touting "investing for long term" which in CFO mind obviously means investment like buying real estate and not a technology moonshot.


Arguably, all there ever was was a giant advertising behemoth and everything else is window-dressing to disguise that fact and recruit talent.


Moonshots are just that. Most will not work out and a few will be incredible successful.


> all that's left is a giant advertising behemoth

Was there really ever anything more?


I think so. I used to be a big fan of Google, they made a great search engine, gmail was ahead of the competitors. Even the moonshots were pretty cool/ interesting. Not sure when things went really sideways.


Android was probably a moonshot at some point?!


Android was an acquisition


Google primary way of innovating these days is just buying promising startups. See: Android, Nest, DeepMind, Firebase, FitBit


While this could be considered a noble effort, I wish Alphabet would have tried harder. Google has enormous resources and talent. It seems like they dedicated relatively little to aggressively making Loon happen.

When the US took a moon shot, we actually made it to the dann moon. It was very expensive and risky and lives were lost. But we committed ourselves and accomplished the goal no matter what it took.

I hope that these Alphabet projects aren't just pr / recruiting investments disguised as big ideas about the future.


I worked on Loon for about 3 years. We had a team of over 200 people and launched thousands of balloons. Resource constraints were never the issue. In fact I think the lack of constraints contributed to some bad engineering decisions.

The technology worked. It was, in fact, totally possible to build solar-powered, balloon-borne LTE base stations that provided internet access directly to handheld phones.

But in the end, it was just a fundamentally flawed idea. Satellites don't pop and fall out of the sky. Balloons do, frequently.


Was 9 years really needed to come to the conclusion that

> But in the end, it was just a fundamentally flawed idea. Satellites don't pop and fall out of the sky. Balloons do, frequently.


Is there any way to use the created IP somewhere else? Make it open source and let the developing nations try themselves?


There's no point. Cell towers work just fine.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-alphabet-loon/alphabet-sh...

>>>

Rich DeVaul, a founder of the project who is no longer with Alphabet, said surging demand for mobile connectivity made towers cost-effective in more of the world than he had estimated a decade ago, diminishing the need for Loon. “The problem got solved faster than we thought,” he said in an interview.


Since Ruth Porat came in they've really trimmed any expenditure that doesn't add straight to the bottom line

It's really hard to be a public company and to take big risks like this. The Apollo Program never would have worked as a startup or public company.

I personally had hoped they told analysts that taking large bets for often no financial outcome is just who Alphabet are - but they folded to the Wall St pressure


I am a staunch supporter of the space program, but... the Apollo program also got cut before it had achieved its objectives, and probably never would have made it to the moon at all if Kennedy had lived.


Also, the external pressures to be the first on the moon instead of the USSR we're quite high.


Kennedy was looking to either cancel Apollo (due to skyrocketing costs), or try to get USSR onboard for it (which probably would have caused it to stall). In addition to that, Apollo was extremely unpopular for the entirety of its existence, save for a brief period in the middle of 1969.

The space program's history is very different from what most people imagine it to have been.


I don't think this is a fair characterization of the situation, but my knowledge is mostly based on one book, Reaching for the Moon, a Short History of the Space Race[0], that I recently read.

You're right that Kennedy was ambivalent about it, and that working with the USSR was floated, but ultimately he did decide to go ahead with it. And there were people opposed, but "extremely unpopular" doesn't sound right. Like, I think the majority of the population was broadly in favor.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/030023046X/



They do often tell analysts this. I have heard Ruth say countless times that they invest for the long term. This usually buys lots of time but ultimately it does need to show financial outcome. It would be strange to not expect this.


I googled “ruth invest for long term” and sure enough here is a video:

https://youtu.be/UYoSyLqv9rM

She does say this quite a bit!


>charitable actions

I just choked on my Tea. Did you perhaps miss the fact they stole Loon technology from a company they were in talks of acquiring? got sued, lost, and finally quietly settled?

https://www.wired.com/story/the-lawsuit-that-could-pop-alpha...

https://www.law.com/therecorder/2019/07/29/google-settles-ip...


Loon was a clear failure on the inside around year 3. That's when the rate of innovation dropped dramatically and key figures left. Google's main failing was continuing to fund it for a further 6 years with only mediocre progress.


It's depressing that you both have to worry about being flamed for expressing that view, and that those fears appear to be completely justified based on the responses you're getting. It's quite clear that Google's moonshots are largely about doing good for the world, and building exciting technologies to make the world a better place. And we should be commending them for it. Technology has consistently made the world better, and its been mediated by people and companies with an ethos of innovation, and a maybe slightly naive desire to pursue those goals even when they don't completely make financial sense.


they're so generous, they didn't even finish the project!


If it's so generous, why is it being cancelled like almost every other non-search product?


the problem is it doesn’t actually solve problems or improve lives in any real way. if they wanted to do that they’d give people mosquito nets and teach them how to read

it’s just corporate PR so people can fawn over them like your post and want to work there or use their products


I mean some of their projects are a little... loony.


that strive to solve a large, global issue through somewhat charitable actions

Capturing eyeballs and mindshare before anyone else can is hardly charitable. It was 100% for the benefit of themselves, and everyone knows it. Facebook have tried the same scam.


So they extracted the PR value just long enough for people to think of them as "charitable", and then they bailed.


IMHO, this is NO different from google closing down any other product. If, however, this news came with a grant of all the patents into the public domain, then it would be another story.

Could a startup set up a commercial balloon based mesh network without running into patents now held by google? Probably not.

THIS is the problem with these "skunkworks" type projects from megacorps. They suck all the air out of the room and prevent others from innovating.

Loon didn't fail, Google/Alphabet just decided they were going to discontinue funding. Now they hold a pool of patents they don't intend to do anything with. Now they will point that funding elsewhere and do the same.


> If, however, this news came with a grant of all the patents into the public domain, then it would be another story...THIS is the problem with these "skunkworks" type projects from megacorps. They suck all the air out of the room and prevent others from innovating.

> Loon didn't fail, Google/Alphabet just decided they were going to discontinue funding. Now they hold a pool of patents they don't intend to do anything with. Now they will point that funding elsewhere and do the same.

They did EXACTLY what you are asking for the last X project that was sunset.

From https://x.company/projects/makani/:

> In 2020 Makani’s journey as a company came to an end. To share the lessons and insights the Makani team gained from their 13 year journey developing an entirely new kind of wind energy technology, the team created The Energy Kite Collection, a portfolio of resources including a technical report, Makani’s entire avionics, flight controls and simulation code repositories, flight logs for every crosswind flight of the M600 prototype, technical videos, a new simulation tool called KiteFAST created with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and a non-assertion pledge for the free use of Makani’s worldwide patent portfolio.


I wasn't aware of that - that is fantastic.

However, this is certainly not the norm. Lets see if it holds true for Loon.


Yeah. This is how prejudice works. It doesn't matter what you do, if you're X you'll be (pre)judged as an X and nothing short of an immaculate behaviour will prevent people from just pointing at some past mistakes or self-serving behaviours to undo all positive actions you may have done


I can't believe you had the gall to post that after they said "I wasn't aware of that - that is fantastic."

Talk about bias...


Fwiw I didn't post it after I read that answer.


Yes in principle, but probably not for this idea. If a startup was really wanted to take this on, they would be very well funded. At that point, they could easily license/buy any IP monopolies owned by Google.


Well it doesn't need to be a global network of stratospheric balloons - i.e. there are related aspects that could be undertaken with much more limited funding on a local scale.

For example, if you wanted to use a laser link to communicate between two ground-tethered weather balloons, you would need to account for the movements of the balloons to correct the link alignment. Lo and behold, first patent on the list (https://loon.com/legal/patents/) is for that exact thing (https://patents.google.com/patent/US8634974B2/en).

What about control the descent of a balloon by letting out some of the gas? You know, like flight balloons use, but "with a computer". Yep, patent for that too.

LOADS of the patents are basically "mesh network but with ballons"

These are obvious things you would need to do, and yet they are patented.

In short, they took away the ability to do ANY balloon based communications - not just a stratospheric global mesh network of current maneuvering autonomous balloons.

Of course, this shit shouldnt be permitted. The patent system is broken, as we often discuss around here.

IMHO, if these megacorps had ANY honour, they would release all patents to public domain - with revocation clause from another entity if that entity creates a derivative patent without same license. THAT is how to foster innovation - everything else should be a trade secret.


>If, however, this news came with a grant of all the patents into the public domain

They dont own any patents, they stole the tech from a startup, got sued, lost (patents) and finally had to settle.

https://www.wired.com/story/the-lawsuit-that-could-pop-alpha...

https://www.law.com/therecorder/2019/07/29/google-settles-ip...


They have about 100 listed here: https://loon.com/legal/patents/


Those are ancillary. This is what happened to the important ones https://9to5google.com/2017/07/10/project-loon-patents/


Hey, 9 years is a pretty good run for any product, especially a ambitious one with no clear revenue model. And the shuttering is paired with a $10M donation to continue the support of the mission.

I know Google gets hate for shutting things down, but they have hundreds of products – I can't think of any other tech company with such a wide range of products. They make bets, and with bets comes a certain amount of failure. I'd guess they have a better "success" rate than, say, YC.

(Ugh, I hate defending Google, but alas)


Honestly this shouldn't even get put in the same pile. The whole point of X is to try moonshot ideas that are truly out there. By definition they are ideas that have a low chance of making it.


Does google have anything successful outside of: search, adsense, chrome, chromebooks, and android? Those are all large accomplishments to be sure, but it seems like they should have more products out there that people actually buy.


They have at least a dozen services that have over a billion users. Others not mentioned in your list: Youtube, Photos, Drive, Maps, Gmail, Docs. And probably slightly more trivial ones like translate, calendar, flights, news, finance, and other stuff that are kinda part of search. Their hardware/home line isn't doing that bad either.


I forgot about YouTube and Gmail (things I use daily), so thank you. Maps is amazing too.

My question wasn't to be a jerk. It was a legitimate question asked out if ignorance.

I still kind of feel like they could be in a lot of additional areas like logistics where they could put all their capital and software edge into becoming a global leader.


I think Amazon already has mastered logistic, and it's a pretty difficult field to get into. Similarly, Apple has decades of experience in hardware now. It is definitely hard to find a sector that is large enough yet under developed.

One example of a new one they're trying is Stadia. Gaming in general is an already large and growing sector, and while there have been some attempt at game streaming, none of been as serious. You can see it will be big by the fact that Microsoft (xCloud) and Amazon (Luna) both also jumped in a year later also.

As far as actual moonshots/X go, I believe they have (or had) a few around energy tech. They've funded quite a lot of research into various fusion tech [1]. They also have a lot efforts in Biotech, may it be with Verily, or just DeepMind doing interesting research, such as solving Protein Folding recently [2].

So I definitely wouldn't say they are lacking breadth, honestly if anything it's hard to remember everything they do, as you pointed out :)

[1] https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/05/29/135179/google-ha...

[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03348-4


Are any of those innovations?

It seems to me they are all boring, obvious, copied, or purchased products that complement their ad selling business.


I mean, maybe after 15 years they seem status quo. But almost all of these were revolutionary at the time... do you remember videos before Youtube, collaboration before Docs, email before Gmail or maps before Maps?

Yes, Google makes money off ads. But how does that discount them being innovations (which, btw, is a qualification you came up with... nobody above you even said they were).


> email before Gmail or maps before Maps

Hotmail and Mapquest would like to chime in here...


I used both!

Hotmail was full of spam, insecure and you had to delete your emails when you were done with them.

Mapquest had directions but the maps were static and you couldn’t interact with them.

I’m not saying Google invented email or maps, but they did define how we currently think of them.


Maybe the innovation is that Google bought some interesting new translation/mapping/phoneOS thing and made it robust enough to power half the world?

Sure, they bought it because they saw that it will go nicely with their adtech thing.

Or who knows. Really. Google is very big. They always has been quirky and enormously successful and profitable. It's very hard to attribute causality to its actions retroactively, especially because even the small numbers are in the billions range, but they are always dwarfed by the adtech blob.

But there's room for nuance. 74% of their revenue was from adtech in 2019 (11 months, 162B USD)

But that means they made 40+ billion from other "stuff" ( https://d3jlwjv6gmyigl.cloudfront.net/images/2020/04/Google-... ).

One of the big problems of Google is that anything that does not integrate with adtech just doesn't really makes sense for them. They have no real model of what to do with things that are not adtech. Chat apps? Whatever the current flavor is. Social network? Yeah, we tried to copy FB, made everyone put +1 buttons everywhere, but ... did not really matter, as it was an insecure hack and it did not really give that oompfh to adtech that they expected.

But they could have kept G+. There's a constant need for a FB alternative. Every time FB fucks up a bunch of people would have tried G+. I'm not saying G+ was good, but shutting it did not make much sense. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Travel, waze, voice, snapseed, meets/hangouts, chromecast is pretty popular too. And all the other stuff people mentioned.


They also have maps, gmail, docs, drive, translate, calendar, photos, scholar, and lately Stadia.


Stadia's successful now? How many users do they have?


Cloud gaming is where we're headed, arguably Google might have been a little early - but they probably rather wanted to be too early than too late.

There's already a few players in this space that are well respected like Nvidia, growth is kinda unavoidable and arguably Stadia gives you the best experience since all games are optimized for it, with the trade-off of having to "rebuy" them outside of Steam.


Gmail? Youtube? GCP? Waymo? Maps? Calendar? Google Suite? Google docs/drive/sheets/etc? Google Analytics?


Cloud happens to be a multibillion dollar business.


GCP


Keep in mind android they bought, then the leader of that project "resigned" for sexual harassment. So it's continuing but I doubt it'll be more than incremental improvements, as we've seen in the past 5 versions.

But I think Gmail and Maps were fairly innovative products when they came up. Both in terms of "wow I didn't think this would be possible before" and being viable businesses.


I use iOS, and have no love for Android but... that's an insane statement.

There's almost 3 billion android phones out there, and one guy leaving isn't going to cause Google to throw up their hands and shrug. Phones are just really, really good now, and there's not much you can really innovate on.


I'd prefer phones un-innovate a lot of stuff out of them


Loons are cute toys that got 100x the deserved media attention vs their actual impact. Actual remote internet connectivity is mostly being addressed through the grungy, mind-numbingly routine job of increasing the coverage of terrestrial networks. The folks doing that unrewarding work should get recognition for actually making a difference in people's lives over the long run.


> Loons are cute toys that got 100x the deserved media attention vs their actual impact.

Then they served their real function: marketing


I’m going to say I called this one at least 8 months ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23419270

Loon is not competitive in a world with Starlink (even without Starlink it seems).

The business didn’t make strategic sense.

I still really liked their original goal of loon for all and the first video they made for it: https://youtu.be/m96tYpEk1Ao

It’s a little sad they had to downsize and give up. I guess Licklider was right to title the original internet paper an “intergalactic computer network”.

Musk started with interplanetary goals and he’ll at least end up with one that covers the earth.

Loon for all started too small.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intergalactic_Computer_Network

—-

Related:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23419880

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25601473


Loon can (could) handle normal LTE mobile phones. Starlink requires a phased array antenna the size of a pizza box which, to my understanding, cannot be fully miniaturized. That's not to say they aren't somewhat competing against each other, but Starlink doesn't strictly dominate as you imply.


I honestly think SpaceX could give those away in developing areas if they had to.

But yes, you’re right that being able to use LTE and existing phone radios was a point in loon’s favor.


Let's hope so. Though the price might be a hurdle.

The price per base station is quite high right now. Estimates range from $500 - $2500 (based on teardown)[1].

1 https://www.reddit.com/r/spacex/comments/kwkep4/tsp_181_star...


Ok, but just to be clear, I wasn't trying to make a statement about cost; that can always be folded into the monthly payments or, as you say, philanthropically donated.


Wouldn't this be considered 'strategic' to Google b/c it had the potential to provide additional eyeballs & ad revenue to users outside of their normal markets (US/EU)?


Eyeballs without access to terrestrial networking probably don't make a lot of ad revenue.

But, even if so, look at Google Fiber. Google benefits from networking build out, regardless of if they're providing the network; it's just as good for them if someone else builds the network. If starlink can fill the niche that Loon filled, that works just as well for Google, on someone else's capex/opex.

Or if the freespace optics they worked on for Loon can reduce backhaul costs for traditional cell towers, that might help get more deployed in areas that don't have connectivity; which again works well for Google.


Users who don’t spend are almost worthless to the advertisers. So google most likely will not receive any meaningful amount of money from countries with data coverage but without the customer base willing to pay for products advertised.


The general idea of a global telecom is a good one.

The strategic failure was not recognizing that starlink’s approach to the problem made way more sense.

They didn’t see that as the existential threat it was.

Instead they downsized their implementation to running the network over poor countries and hand waved a bit about being able to provide connectivity in congested areas.

Loon has no viable future in a world with starlink.


> Loon has no viable future in a world with starlink.

That's a real shame if true, because they solve different problems. Loon is like a super high range cell tower and could fill in a lot of gaps.


I wouldn't call this a strategic failure. Google is a big SpaceX investor.


Well a nine year investment in a company to end in failure isn’t what I’d call a strategic success.


A single investment is not strategy though.

Think of the investments in Loon, Taara, SpaceX and Google Fiber as part of a larger strategy to bring internet access with decent bandwidth to a larger number of humans. Some investments will not pan out, others will bear fruit.


I think we’re talking about different things.

Does this make sense for alphabet? I agree that it does as one of their many bets.

Does it make sense for Loon which spun off as its own company under alphabet with its own leadership and its own stock? That’s the strategic failure I’m talking about, Loon’s not alphabet’s.


I agree with wcoenen.

They invested in multiple potential paths to a global internet. It's not surprising that they'd drop the investments that aren't as promising as the investments that are showing significant promise.

It's like saying I applied to multiple colleges, and because I only accepted one application, that the other applications were a failure. But, no, it could just mean that I preferred to go to the college that I accepted, but the others were a hedge against that path not working out.


I am currently reading "The Idea Factory" [1], the story of Bell Labs and its innovation streak for many decades. There were so many amazing things Bell Labs worked on - all directly related to solving business problems. At one point, they were given a task of developing the most perfect lubrication oil dispenser with a requirement that it dispenses exactly 15 drops of oil per squeeze of the trigger. They worked on Tractors that dug channels for laying telephone lines to materials that lead to the invention of the transistor to solve the problem of unreliability of vacuum tube based switch boards. Some worked on improving manufacturing and invented what we call Quality Control. Everything was deep and wide, but still tied to the Bell's business.

When I look at Google X and bunch of modern corporate labs (Lab 126, Facebook probably has something, Intel Labs (drones!), Microsoft Labs), I see a whole lotta hoo haa about tech innovation, but nothing with a long term vision of integration, capitalization and sustenance. No sense of practicality and pragmatism. May be Loon is a way to make Google an internet company (ISP), I could be wrong but as an outsider, it feels like a PR stunt than anything else.

Highly recommend this book.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Idea-Factory-Great-American-Innovatio...


The difference is that Bell scientists were always focused on core business problems and not just chasing fantasies. OK sure, Shannon was doing whatever with mice and unicycles...but he earned it! All of Bells big accomplishments were tightly coupled to business needs: Information theory => everything, transistors => bad vacuums, fiber optics => latency.

Similarly Google has had huge contributions on "research" focused on their core problems: MapReduce, BigTable, Borg, BERT, etc.


I think another very important component was that they were innovating in an area where they had a legal monopoly - there was no risk that their competitors would steal away their inventions. This is not the case with Waymo for instance.


Facebook Reality Labs does VR and AR, eg the Oculus Quest. They innovate and develop great mass-market consumer hardware but they've started doing an awful job in every other respect (their family sharing model sucks compared to Steam). I'm looking forward to see them being disrupted by a real competitor soon.


It seems that something like Loon is much more risky and large scale than those Bell Labs projects - which seem like regular r&d risks (although many of them).

And if it have worked reliably and affordably, they probably could have found some way to monetize it.


Lab 126 made Kindle. It's already done its job.

Oh, and Fire TV, and Echo.

Yeah, Lab 126 definitely did its job. Literally every product integrates is a core part of the Amazon experience.


Google already is an ISP... see Fi, Fiber. Loon isn’t so far outside their domain.


The successor, Project Taara, seems quite impressive (and more sustainable): https://x.company/projects/taara/


Optical beam link technology is old tech. It's also badly affected by weather and pollution (rain, clouds, fog) which is why people who do point-to-point communications for a living tend to prefer microwave.


Given that Starlink will probably solve the same set of problems within a few years (that being access to internet worldwide in areas with minimal infrastructure) this isn't too much of a surprise to me.


You connect to Loon balloons with your regular cellphone whereas StarLink requires a "pizza-box-sized" antenna. They solve slightly different problems.


It's likely easier to set up a solar powered cell tower on the ground with a starlink antenna on top, than to float the same equipment on a balloon though.


Don’t forget about Amazon’s Kuiper System.

https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/innovation-at-amazon/amazon...


"Pizza-box-sized" was a placeholder. The Starlink antenna ("Dishy") has a diameter of 59cm https://i.imgur.com/ULwOGxs.jpg


That's a 12 inch medium pizza, without the box. An antenna of that size can't be carried by normal people going about their daily lives.

More people are willing to buy a phone and a phone plan (Facebook was even willing to subsidize the plan in India with Internet.org) than buying a phone, a phone plan, an antenna and a StarLink plan. That's even more true for people who aren't internet users yet.


I thought pizzas were measured by their circumference, not their radius. If so, that's a 72" pizza.

I measured out 59cm on a measuring tape and compared it to my refrigerator, and that's much larger than any pizza I have ever seen.


Pizzas are measured by their diameter (in the US).


So everyone in this thread is wrong. It's a 24" pizza :)


> That's a 12 inch medium pizza

I don’t know what kind of barbaric society you hail from, but here in civilization 12” is a small pizza. ;-)


The dishy is almost 24 inches, he is wrong.

That's quite a bit bigger than even a large pizza.


Most people will already have a phone and a phone plan but missing coverage in many places. Starlink makes it pretty cheap and easy for network operators to place solar/wind powered cell towers without need to dig wired connections or make microwave chains. That can seriously speed up the rollout to improve coverage. And users don't have to do anything.


This is quite a surprise. Only recently, Loon collaborated with seasoned reinforcement learning researchers to build more efficient navigation controllers for the balloons, titled "Autonomous navigation of stratospheric balloons using reinforcement learning" [1]. Although, it would appear that much of the gains come from a simulator that they've been developing for a while.

[1]: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2939-8


You need a business though. And that doesn't move the needle.


Of course. My point was that it appeared like they were actively working on developing new technologies. Usually, a project that is expected to shut down would mostly lose momentum months before. Although, it is possible that this work was done months ago and only came out now due to the slower Nature review cycles.


One thing that irks me a bit about Google X as a “moonshot factory” is that they seem to be claiming that they’re good at moonshots but I’m not sure that’s true. (I’m not saying they’re bad at it, just questioning that they have a special edge.)

I get the basic idea, that you try lots of big ambitious projects, and most of them will fail but some will hopefully stick; but how do you distinguish between a 5% success rate and a 1% rate, say?

Deep pockets and the willingness to place big long-term and medium-term bets is crucial, but it’s not everything you need. Does Google X have processes, people, notable successes they can point to to show that they really are good at moonshots?


Maybe on the long run, this might be X's very legacy: figuring out how to become good at achieving moonshots, by pursuing a lot of them and failing at the most.

At least that's what Astro Teller is talking about a lot: Work on the approach, don't pursue single lucky punches.

Sad that loom didn't work out. If X fails eventually, I think the idea of radical corporate innovation from scratch is dead.

Then Elon seems to be the only one left with the most promising 10x or even 100x playbook: hardcore dedication to insane goals in terms of resources, work ethics and throughput.


Talking about X more generally, their Gimbal book is interesting:

https://storage.googleapis.com/x-prod.appspot.com/files/Gimb...

I think their self-driving cars project is probably what X could be at its peak, incredibly challenging projects, high profit potential, well financed.

Projects like loon seem more like a project that a university would get grant funding to finance.


Think about the many hard problems to be solved. They had cost-effective high-endurance stratospheric balloons - decades of military projects never really got there. They had very detailed stratospheric wind models - decades of atmospheric science research never really got there. They had a flying LTE network. Each of these solutions was almost certainly too expensive and “niche” for any conventional funding agency to consider, but necessary for Loon to work.


I really respect X and Astro Teller. We need this kind of optimism and radical exploration for social benefit.

Did you know that his grandfather was Edward Teller, inventor of the hydrogen bomb? In one of Edward's final contributions [1], he mathematically modeled the cost and effect of pumping sulfur-based compounds into the upper atmosphere to reduce runaway feedback loops of global warming. On paper, it works. Solving global climate change is a real moonshot -- but too bad it is so taboo, because it could dramatically benefit all life on earth, if done right. Looks like balloons could be helpful for the implementation, too [2]

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20160127185550/https://e-reports...

[2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_geoengineering


>...the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped. So we’ve made the difficult decision to close down Loon.

I don't really understand - wasn't the whole premise of Google X and their "Other Bets" that "Google has deep pockets. Let's use this to explore radically big ideas, that are ahead of their time, and let the world catch up to them?"

Bringing "abundant, affordable Internet access, not just to the next billion, but to the last billion" is clearly an investment. You bring them the internet. You spur them to achieve great things. Then you reap the financial rewards.

But that's not a 10-year plan, that's a 20-50-100 year plan. But, there's no reason to think that Google couldn't think like a 20-50-100 year company if they tried.

So what happened? Did they really think that they were going to make money from the poorest 1B people on the planet BEFORE they brought them ubiquitous internet and helped them use that internet to improve their quality of life?


Worth remembering that Starlink is coming online relatively soon, and that Google put nearly $1B into SpaceX 5 years ago.

It looks to me like Google made a couple of bets over the last 10 years on different paths to getting worldwide internet access.

One path is looking more promising than the other, so they're culling now.


Well, look what happened in India: Jio sank $N billion dollars on building out 4G everywhere, and a billion or so people got much better internet access. The answer is clear: we can get there by laying more of the kind of infrastructure we already have in the developed world, and it's just a matter of getting the will to put it in place.


I was curious how much Jio spent on creating their network and the answer seems to be approximately ₹1T or $14B.


Which is approximately their parent company's yearly operating income. And then they sold 33% of Jio for $21B. (e.g. Google owns 7.7% of Jio for $4.7B).

I'd say it was a really good investment for them.


Surprised they're not demanding the government refund them for their idle equipment in Jammu-Kashmir


Well... Starlink showed its a 6 year plan.


I suspect that Starlink will render it unneeded.


You mean starlink's failure will supplant loon's? Think carefully before you respond. I am one of about 5 engineers to help invent both globalstar and iridium.


> Think carefully before you respond. I am one of about 5 engineers to help invent both globalstar and iridium.

I don't think this kind of warning is a helpful part of the conversation.

If you want to make an argument against Starlink, fine, go ahead and make it. But what is the use of the admonition for someone to "think carefully before they respond"?

It seems to be the only real effect that is intended to have is to deter additional conversation.

Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and ignore your warning, and the credentials you present: I think Starlink is going to be a commercial success. If they solve the satellite interlink problem (which, admittedly, is a big problem), I think it will be a viable path to delivering a global internet solution.


First of all, my comment was in response to a flippant comment "Oh Starlinks gonna win." In that context its more information than the original commenter gave along with their 1-bit opinion.

Oh yeah and I also interviewed with Loon.

Iridium solved the satellite interlink problem (but only wirelessly at 10 Mbps). They could have used laser crosslinks but they didn't know how to implement a search / sync up algorithm (fast sub-second search algorithms were available before iridium was built but they failed to take advantage of the MIT research.)

The basic problem is that Iridium / Globalstar / Loon / Starlink are all fill-in systems for terrestrial internet. And since we've been deploying terrestrial internet for 25Y, the number of places missing higher-speed internet is smaller and smaller each year. All the rich customers have all been reached by faster, cheaper wires. The poor customers ... well they are poor, they will not pay much for service. And there are fewer of them every year ...

No LEO system can actually penetrate a building with a data signal. It's a physics problem with sending a signal 400 mi wirelessly. Reusable rockets don't solve that physics / power problem. Iridium has a special +35dbm channel that can ring a phone inside a building, but you have to walk outside (in the rain, snow, whatever) to take the call. Same with starlink. Physics hasn't changed since the mid 1990s. It is not expected to change in the next billion years, either.

So its just not a smart thing to build satellite internet. period.


People with that type of vision get suffocated out by the bureaucracy of big companies. That Google doesn’t exist anymore.


I believe gravity is what happened, in the particular case of Loon.

I never understood it. It is expensive to keep things fighting gravity. The only way to avoid that is to either a) not put them up above the earth, or b) put them high enough that gravity isn't much of a force, like low earth orbit.

It doesn't take a genius to understand that, but it took Elon Musk to prove it.

Meanwhile... Google launched balloons.

See also: FB project Aquila.


Gravity in low earth orbit is pretty much the same as it is at the surface.


I should have said gravity combined with low speed.

Or, I suppose more simply, "weather".


This kinda tells you everything about the culture of Google:

> Sadly, despite the team’s groundbreaking technical achievements over the last 9 years — ... — the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped.

Focus is on the technical achievements, never mind if anyone ever used it.


Surely that's kind of the point of X and moonshot projects? If they weren't taking on projects that required large scale, risky technical innovation then they'd just be...a normal company?


This summer I had the luck of actually seeing a Loon balloon floating way up in the sky. Viewing it with a telescope was surreal, especially at night, you could see it blink!


I'm sure this type of tech can be rebooted at any time depending on the need. I think a sustainable commercial model would be difficult with the global slowdown. Many of these moonshots might sadly end earlier than anticipated. I don't think COVID is the end of all momentum in startups but it sure feels like it may take a generation to return.


So what happens now to all the people who worked on that project? They shop themselves around the X building to see what other project(s) they could interview for and join? Or is this so big a change that this has a broader impact even to the job market around X?


Go to Amazon and work on project Kuiper


Worth noting that Google invested close to $1B in SpaceX in 2015, and is estimated to own ~10% of the company. Starlink deployment going smoothly and being much closer to commercially viable may have something to do with the decision to finally kill Loon.


Loon always caught my eye, and I thought the reason it would catch on is due to cost. Isn’t launching a satellite much more expensive than a balloon?

For example, providing Loon antennas to a telecom provider, and decreasing the infrastructure cost of setting up networks.


> Isn’t launching a satellite much more expensive than a balloon?

Historically yes, but while I don't know the numbers, a launch provider that is able to reduce the cost by about an order of magnitude might have an advantage here (SpaceX are also launching 60 of them at once).

It also seems like satellites would be a bit less vulnerable to outside interference than balloons.


Yeah but satellites get actual shit done reliably and for decades.


I don't think they will, but I really wish they would open source and release some technical data on exactly what components/subsystems and design they were using for photovoltaic panels, charge control and monitoring systems, and batteries.



Wondering how much SpaceX's satellite internet has to do with their decision to shut down Loon.


The mesh network was informed by, and in turn informed LEO stuff. They did smart work


Starlink made this obsolete before it launched


But Loon launched in 2013 and Starlink in 2018 (?).

In a world in which satellites stayed very expensive I could imagine it being a bit more successful.


Technology was already in use in 2004 (Space Data), and Loon started in 2008 when Google decided to "borrow" it.

https://www.wired.com/story/the-lawsuit-that-could-pop-alpha...


While SpaceX is in the news, there’s also the Amazon LEO initiative: Project Kuiper. They’ve received FCC approval and have access to Blue Origin rockets to launch.


Sure, there's lots of satellite internet services. most of them have failed to become financially viable


out of curiosity, how many employees were working on this outdated idea?


200.


When did it started?


Keep on the search and play ads on youtube


I thought this was parody


It's surreal to think that a decade ago even corps like Google could get away with using ableist language for their projects.


and this is why we have quarterly goals

this project was dead in the water a long time ago, and for years


I don't understand why google isn't recognized as just about the largest failure on the planet. Other than search and gmail, everything they start, dies.


Google is cursed by its own success. Any product they release will always be on shaky ground when compared to their advertising and search money-printing monopolies.

At this point, they should give up and settle into their role as the 21st century IBM.


This is not a Google Project, it's an Alphabet 'Moonshot' designed to maybe shake things up, create a market, discover new solutions/opportunities/induce investment with a very high risk profile and no obviously commercial outcome i.e. quasi NGO stuff that VC's won't touch.

There's no way to compare Loon to a regular commercial venture.

It's just stuff the founders want to do and that's fine.


IBM builds their own line of processors and operates some of the biggest supercomputers (e.g. Summit at Oak Ridge). I know at least one guy who works on a pretty ambitious project at Google, and last I talked to him, he lusted after the insanely crazy things he used to get to do in an IBM-internal dev shop.


Cue https://killedbygoogle.com comments...


Well if you want to attempt something big without having to work with company's like Google then Elon Musk made an interesting offer today.

Musk is offering $100 million to the team providing the best carbon capture technology.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-musk-carbon-capture/e...


Judged by the person who thinks putting cars in tunnels is the solution to urban transit? No thanks. Your average third grader is a more qualified engineer than Elon Musk.


He does better rockets than most third graders.


Elon Musk is not an engineer. He hasn't built a thing is his entire life. His biggest accomplishment is hitching a ride on the success of Paypal before getting fired for trying to move their infrastructure to Windows (lol).

My niece, on the other hand, just built a pretty cool rocket out of a soda bottle!

If SpaceX is less comically incompetent than Tesla, I'd wager it's because Elon Musk hasn't been paying as much attention to it.


Sorry to be this guy, but I am quite happy this will not happen.

The sky - our sky - is not a playground for tech companies.

Imposing a mesh-grid of thousands of balloons in the sky is an incredible intrusion for people around the world who have not asked for anything.

It's the same for mega constellations of satellites (Starlink).

Would you be willing to have a company come and put unsolicited electronic equipment in your backyard? Probably not. It's the same for our sky - I don't want that Facebook or Google impose thousands of electronic devices in our sky. Or maybe ask "the owner" before you start, i.e. the citizens of the world.

What's more beautiful than watching stars in the sky in a July/August warm night?

Do you really want to lose this landscape forever and have 100 times more satellites than we already have? and have series of white dots one behind the other?

OK, companies and states have done it the past, but it's not a valid argument to justify the acceleration with a factor 10 or 100 of this process with thousands of Starlink satellites for example.


Unlike an airplane, the baloon flies much higher. I don't think you can see it with your bare eyes from the ground. Perhaps if you look really hard.

Regarding the satellites, i hope the Starlink satellites will also be not visible to the naked eye once they reach their final orbit now that they have the sunshade.

On the other hand, these technologies provide a huge benefit to the people on the ground.

If you want to complain about Loon you should also complain about regular airplanes, helicopters, zeppelins, weather balloons and balloons in general.


> Regarding the satellites, i hope the Starlink satellites will also be not visible to the naked eye

This is not guaranteed at all. I read articles in the past mentioning that you will see "trains" of dozens of white dots one behind another in the sky.

Do we currently see satellites in a dark summer night? Yes. So for Starlink it will be the same, except with 10 of them one behind another.

I'd be happy to read more sources confirming or infirming this.


> I read articles in the past mentioning that you will see "trains" of dozens of white dots one behind another in the sky.

"Will" there means "right after launch, when they're in a very different orbit from final". They spread out by a very large distance, so that in the final version you'd only have line of sight to a few scattered across the sky.


Always being able to see fast moving dots when looking at a dark sky is a significant change compared to the experience of all our ancestors. StarLink might be the first time someone has done something that affects every single society - even tribes in the Amazon and India.


If you looked at the night sky in the last 10 years you already saw satellites and second stage rockets in orbit many times during the night, even in a light polluted area.

Here's a study https://arxiv.org/abs/2101.00374 that looks at Starlink satellites with the visor. Looks like Starlink will be visible only in rather dark areas with good viewing conditions. It's not like you're just looking up and they will bother you.


Our skies and space shall be the “playground” of military and police though, until the day of international peace.


Yes, and this is a good reason for not adding 100 times more satellites/balloons/whatever again.

NB: currently we don't have "trains" of satellites, i.e. ten white dots one behind the other in the sky. The mega constellation projects would create this.


> Or maybe ask "the owner" before you start, i.e. the citizens of the world.

Are you under the impression that the sky and satellite space is unregulated, by the people's representatives?

Huh.


Do you find the questions about sky and sattelite space are often addressed by people's representatives?

I don't think I heard it addressed even once on public media during major elections.

You'll probably say: "then change your representatives or do some lobying or choose representatives who care about this".

This is a little more complicated than this: people are busy with hundreds of other things when they vote, and the fact these questions are never addressed in public debates should not give an 'implicit consent' about "Ok, tech companies, you can do whatever you want with our sky. Dozens of thousands of new satelites? Ok, no problem, please do!"


I think your problem is with representative democracy. Most issues are not taken all the way to the public floor.

> these questions are never addressed in public debates should not give an 'implicit consent'

In a western society whatever is not forbidden is allowed. In more oppresive regimes whatever is not allowed is forbidden.

There has been some press about e.g. SpaceX affecting astronomers, but by and large people don't care. And without the people pressuring them to not do it, the people's representatives, or people appointed by them, make their best judgement.

Regulators have the authority to grant launch and orbit permission just like the DMV (presumably) has authority on a whole bunch of driving license issuance rules and decisions. And how there aren't town halls to get input about the number of fire exits a building has to have.




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