A fleet of ultra-thin polyethylene film balloons manufactured by Raven Aerostar could beam broadband internet to Puerto Rico, where damage to the telecom infrastructure caused by Hurricane Maria has been hampering recovery efforts for three weeks.
The Federal Communication Commission granted search engine giant Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., an experimental license for Project Loon to provide emergency cellular service to millions of people on the island.
About 90 percent of the U.S. territory with 3.4 million people remains without power, and 81 percent of cell phone antennas, 66 percent of cell towers and 47 percent of telecommunications service are yet to be restored, according to Oct. 11 updates from a Puerto Rican government website called statusPR.com.
Project Loon would help on all restoration fronts. Designed to provide wireless internet to remote and under-served areas, the project launched in 2012 with the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Raven Aerostar providing the super-pressure balloons to carry Google's technology through the stratosphere.
Raven's customized film material can withstand temperatures as low as minus 58º F, allowing the balloons to be maneuvered above connectivity obstacles like mountains and clouds. In May, the company's Loon balloons helped deliver internet to thousands in flooded areas of Peru.
Sean Turgeon, business and communication specialist for Raven Aerostar, told Plastics News that the company is declining comment at this time about its role in Project Loon in Puerto Rico.
Google still needs to partner with a wireless company before it can send signals to peoples' devices. A spokesperson for the Mountain View, Calif., company has reported progress on this step.