Google has found a new use for its investments in artificial intelligence (AI) technology: controlling the Project Loon balloons. A project initiated by Google’s X unit, Project Loon launches balloons into the stratosphere, where they provide internet connections to areas that otherwise wouldn’t have connectivity. The big problem with the balloons is that they move depending on the wind currents. In the past, Google engineers used handcrafted algorithms to tell the balloons to go up or down in order to catch favorable wind currents. Now, however, the balloons are using machine learning to figure out for themselves where they should go.
Impressively, the Google team said the AI was able to keep a Project Loon balloon in Peruvian airspace for 98 days last summer. Feats like this mean that Project Loon can launch fewer balloons in order to reach under-served areas.