Photo courtesy of Flickr: The West Studio
Ever since Cyberdyne's Skynet failed to become self-aware and launch an all-out war on all of humankind, tech giants Google and Facebook have seemingly been racing to pick up the slack and use technology to take over the world. Don't believe me? Just do a search on the two companies' side projects and you'll see a dastardly picture start to take shape. You might also find some videos of Mark Zuckerberg laughing maniacally while lightning flashes in the background and babies cry. Just ignore those videos. Instead, focus your attention here, as we pull the veil back on two of the aforementioned secret projects - Google's Project Loon and Facebook's Web Drones. Put on your tinfoil hat and let's dive in.
Google's Project Loon Explained
Google is well known for its innovation and dedication to technology. What a lot of the public may not know is that lurking behind the simplistic design of the Google website is a company that invests in fringe - and even future - tech. This article from CIO.com details just a few of Google's forays into mad science. It is a pretty fascinating look at the vast array of interests the company has. Of course, you could fill an entire book with Google's business ventures - both failed and successful - so for the sake of brevity, we are going to focus on just one: Project Loon.
What is Google Loon?
In essence, Project Loon is Google's vision to bring high-speed Internet access and WiFi to the two-thirds of the world that are deprived of this precious "commodity." Part of the idea is that regions - both in the United States and abroad - that have access to the World Wide Web will become brighter thanks to the ease of accessing information. This information and enlightenment can lead to change - both political (in oppressed areas) and in people's general way of life. Imagine a farmer in a desolate third-world village who now has access to the latest weather imagery or a village doctor who can chat with volunteer doctors over the Internet. The possibilities are endless.
Of course Google also hopes Loon will also be able to help give WiFi Internet access to regions that have been devastated by recent disasters, helping to keep people connected to family members and assist in rescue efforts.
And of course, they want it to control their legion of upcoming robot armies. But you didn't read that here....
The technology behind Loon seems a little, well, loony, to say the least. It's a blend of genius and simplicity, much like the delicious pastry the "cronut" (half doughnut, half croissant, all delicious). Basically, special balloons are released into the stratosphere and use the wind to travel from location to location, depending upon where they are needed. Somehow (magic, maybe?) the balloons are able to detect the different wind directions and hitch a ride as needed. Meanwhile, down on planet Earth, an antenna attached to buildings sends out a request for some sweet Internet juice, and the balloons (like the wish-granting genies they are) obey.
The project begin testing in June of 2013 in New Zealand and is currently being tested in Central Valley, California.
Not to be outdone, Mark Zuckerberg, infamous Facebook creator and strange-job-interviewer extraordinaire, also wishes to bring Internet access to the entire world. But where Google wants to use balloons (much to the delight of children and circus clowns the world over), the father of "the Facebook" wants to use drones. Flying, robotic drones. Zapping Internet at you from above.
Another option, as Zuckerberg himself explains it, is to use FSO - Free Space Optical communication - to achieve this goal. In his own words: "These are basically invisible laser beams in the infrared part of the spectrum."
These FSO units would work as amplifiers for satellites, increasing their speed to that of regular fiber-optic networks. FSO has some issues that may be difficult to overcome, and the drones may be a simpler, more effective method to deliver doom - I mean, Internet access - to the world.
Like Google's balloons, the drones would fly around a given area, feeding off of solar rays, which would enable them to stay afloat for up to several years while they provided WiFi to communities.
In reality, the company plans to use both drones and FSO technology to makes its vision come true. And to their credit, they have already had some success - Zuckerberg claims to have brought Internet access to 3 million people in the Philippines and Paraguay.
The project title is officially called Internet.org, and you can find more information at their website.
Interestingly enough, both projects are not without their critics, some going as far as to suggest that the ultimate goals of the two companies may not make much realistic sense. As tech visionary Bill Gates points out, a child in a Third World country with malaria doesn't have much need for the Internet - they would be better served with medical assistance. And to add to that point, what good is Internet access if you can't afford a computer - or even electricity?
Still, evil world domination plans aside, both projects are admittedly pretty cool and could usher in a whole new "era of enlightenment."