Devastated and disconnected by Hurricane Maria, there’s a chance Puerto Rico might get some help from Google’s helium wi-fi balloons.
Hurricane Maria leaves millions in the dark
In essentially one shot across the U.S. territory, Hurricane Maria wiped out most of the electricity and broadband infrastructure for Puerto Rico’s 3+ million residents.
According to this FCC report, 91.1% of cellular towers were out of service in Puerto Rico nearly half of the counties 100% in the dark.
That means just about every resident is unable to contact friends and family to let them know how they’re doing or even that they’re alive.
Tech companies step up
While Washington seems to be kicking its heels on deciding if its going to help, a couple of America’s biggest tech companies are trying to find a way to help.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg sent a communications team to Puerto Rico to work to get people back online, and made a $1.5 million donation to boost the efforts.
Google — well, Alphabet now — is also trying to see if it can help get Puerto Rico connected again, using it’s X Lab’s Project Loon helium wi-fi balloons. They tweeted the following last week:
— The Team at X (@Theteamatx) September 29, 2017
Helium wi-fi balloons beam down Internet from the sky
We’ve written about it before, but if you aren’t familiar, Project Loon is essentially just a fleet of giant, high-altitude weather balloons armed with wi-fi hotspots. Need helium for your low-altitude balloon program? Get a free quote here!
Put even shorter, they’re helium wi-fi balloons — they beam Internet down to people on the ground.
X Lab has already successfully flown their helium wi-fi balloons over Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka, to name a few.
X Lab’s biggest roadblocks has never been the technology it seems, rather the international laws and border legislations that govern airspace.
However, it’s not clear, even if Project Loon is allowed to launch over Puerto Rico, if X Lab’s helium wi-fi balloons would be capable at this young stage in its development to handle the massive scale of the emergency in the territory.
UPDATE: Inc.com is reporting that Puerto Rico now has Internet again thanks to Google’s helium wi-fi balloons.
Sources: Twitter @Theteamatx, FCC