Posted February 21, 2008 5:17 am by with 22 comments

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UPDATE: Looking for Google’s official April Fools joke for 2008? It’s here.

If I hadn’t read it in the Wall Street Journal I’d be as skeptical as Techdirt, but it appears Google might be interested in a company that deploys wifi-equipped balloons.

OK, let that sink in.

Yes, a company that attaches $1500 of wireless technology to $50 balloons, uses farmers to release them, watches them burst after 24 hours then, get this, little parachutes bring the transmitters safely back to earth!

Say it with me…”Are You Kidding Me?”

It sounds so absurd that I really don’t know where to start. Seriously, I’m lost for words. Is it April Fools already?

Go and read the WSJ piece then come back and let me know what you think about it.

  • Cool, we will be able to obtain great wifi transceiver for the price of one rifle bullet (and a little luck)


  • @Sebastien – now I hadn’t thought of that. I wonder how many of the farmers that release the balloons also own shotguns. πŸ˜‰

  • Branon

    Why don’t they just make the balloon a little stronger and tether it to the ground?

  • Zen

    Next thing you know we’ll be hearing about birds with strange types of cancer in the area. πŸ˜›

  • Pierre

    Consider using those in case of a massive disaster.
    After all, it’s one of’s missions

  • I like the rifle idea πŸ™‚ I can only imagine how great these transceivers are to broadcast a strong single from a high altitude.

  • @Steve – if I could get my hands on one, maybe, just maybe I can get wifi to reach from one corner of my house to the other!!! πŸ˜‰

  • Keri Morgret

    Ham radio operators and other hobbyists have been doing this type of thing for a while now, though without the added transceiver to make it accessible to others. It can be under a couple of hundred dollars that way, and no special needs for permits if the payload is under four pounds (at least in California).

    In 2006, I left a couple of days early for Pubcon and we launched a weather balloon in the Mojave Desert, it went to 106,000 feet, and took over 1000 pictures. It transmitted its position to digipeaters, which took the information and put it on the internet. We had people from all over following its path online.

    Details of our launch: A search for near space balloons or HALO (High ALtitude Object) balloon will turn up many other projects.

  • This is something new for me. I never heard about these transmitter and balloon but it’s look like interesting. But why is Google intersted on this?

  • Jeff

    I don’t know if the wifi balloon idea will work in practice, but I hope it does. It attempts to the solve the problem of delivering wifi/mobile service to areas where the population density can’t support cell phone towers every few miles.

    I don’t know enough about weather systems to know if this is a hair-brain idea or not. I have read as part of the plan balloons would be launched on a schedule to ensure full coverage and redundancy.

    If it works or not, it’s certainly creative.

  • They’re “very reliable people,” says Mr. Knoblach. They have to “milk the cows 24-7, 365 days a year, so they’re great people to use as a launch crew.”

    Wow. Interesting? Google – always on top of “new and innovative” ideas?

  • Jeff

    @cesar you asked why Google would be interested… They’re supporting technology that can bring more customers into the market.

  • Jordan McCollum

    Silly Andy. If it were April Fools, tomorrow would be our birthday!

    Aw, heck, let’s have a party anyway.

  • @Jordan – I knew it didn’t seem right, but a party sounds good!

  • This is the first time I have ever heard of these Wifi balloons and they are certainly a bit out-there. Although innovative, it definitely seems quite risky to place $500 technology on balloons. But if it actually works, what is there to lose? It may end up being a great cost-saver.

  • Andy, you saying that you’ve got a huge house?

  • @Steve – crappy router. πŸ˜‰

  • “if I could get my hands on one..”

    What, a rifle, or a balloon?

  • Where can I get my hands on one of these killer balloons? I need a vacation!

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  • This thread shows how uninovated the average person is.
    This is a great idea for google and companies with lots of money.
    The company thats been sending these balloons up have been selling services to trucking companies to assist in lagistical activities and must be making money or the wouldnt be paying farmers 50$ a launch and gps nerds 100.00 per tranciever they reretrieve.
    Weather or not this is idea for wifi transmission i dont know but i do know that wifi is all about line of sight and if you can see the antenna hanging from a balloon 1-2 miles in the sky then odds are youll be able to recieve the signal, but by sailing these balloons into the stratusfeer and letting them blow i dont believe it the right idea for wifi.
    By the way i have a wifi station that transmits 25 miles ptp with a clear line of sight and 15 miles point to multipoint.
    I think im goin g to buy a few of these balloons and see if tethering a balloon 3-400ft in the air with a high gain antenna and wifi repeater attached to it will be economical and ill report back.
    Stop being a bunch of pussies sitting infront of your computer with a thumb in your fat ass and get out and experiment.
    You might make something out of yourself.