- Alphabet just shut down Google X spinout Loon, the solar-powered internet balloon company.
- Google X is home to the company’s ambitious “moonshot” projects, and includes self-driving car project Waymo.
- Google X director Astro Teller said Loon had suffered a “longer and riskier” path to viability than planned.
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Loon, the Google spinout that hoped to make broadband more accessible using solar-powered balloons, has been shut down by parent company Alphabet.
The startup — which enthusiasts once believed could be a unicorn of the future — has confirmed it is winding down operations after a “longer and riskier” path to viability than planned.
The company produced balloons capable of flying high up in the stratosphere while enabling internet access down on Earth. The mobile, floating stations were praised for being more flexible than typical cell stations, as they’re constantly moving, and for having much wider coverage areas, as much as a hundred times that of a cell tower.
But in a blog post published on Thursday, the director of Google’s X division Astro Teller said Alphabet had made the “difficult decision” to close the firm down. “We’re working to take care of employees and hope to help many find alternative roles at X, Google and Alphabet,” he wrote.
Project Loon started as one of Alphabet’s moonshot projects at its experimental division Google X (which became “X”), home to other outside-the-box ideas like Google Glass, self-driving car startup Waymo, and drone delivery firm Wing. Loon span out from X in 2018 and was categorized as one of Alphabet’s “Other Bets.”
X has yet to see any of its ideas hit the mainstream, and Alphabet has shut down other projects connected to the division, such as power-generating kite firm Makani and fuel alternative Project Foghorn.
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The firm’s advocates championed its ability to bring internet access to those forced to go without, as it did in remote areas of Puerto Rico where cellphone towers were knocked out by Hurricane Maria.
Teller argued that many of Alphabet’s moonshots were inherently risky and may not work out.
“We’re so proud of the hundreds of Loonies and Xers who’ve worked on various elements of this enormous challenge since 2011,” wrote Teller. “Taking moonshots is always a risky proposition and for every Waymo, Verily or Wing X produces, there will be many more potentially world changing ideas that don’t work out.
“While we’re sad and disappointed that Loon’s journey has come to an end, connectivity remains high on our list of spaces to keep hunting for moonshot ideas and hopeful Loon will live on as inspiration for others to try audacious, radical ideas.”