Google's parent Alphabet says its stratospheric balloons are now delivering the internet to remote areas of Puerto Rico where cellphone towers were knocked out by Hurricane Maria.
Two of the search giant's 'Project Loon' balloons are already over the country enabling texts, emails and basic web access to AT&T customers with handsets that use its 4G LTE network.
Several more balloons are on their way from Nevada, and Google has been authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to send up to 30 balloons to serve the hard-hit area.
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'Project Loon' balloons are already over the country enabling texts, emails and basic web access to AT&T customers with handsets that use its 4G LTE network. Pictured, a Loon balloon on its way to Puerto Rico from Nevada
Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth says in a blog post that the technology is still experimental, though it has been tested since last year in Peru following flooding there.
'We've never deployed Project Loon connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace, and we're grateful for the support of AT&T and the many other partners and organizations that have made this possible,' Westgarth writes.
'This is the first time we have used our new machine learning powered algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so we’re still learning how best to do this.
The balloons were launched from Alpahbet's launch site in Nevada to Puerto Rico.
A Loon balloon getting ready to take flight to Puerto Rico from Google's launch site in Nevada
'As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible.
'Thanks to the Pan-American and Puerto Rican governments' aviation authorities and air traffic controllers, who enabled us to send small teams of balloons from our launch site in Nevada to Puerto Rico.
'Thanks also to SES Networks and Liberty Cablevision who helped quickly set up essential ground infrastructure so that the balloons could get internet connectivity.'
Loon balloons have flown more than 26 million kms around the world, Alphabet said.
'Thanks to improvements in balloon design and durability, many balloons stay airborne for more than 100 days, with our record breaking balloon staying aloft for 190 days,' the secretive firm said.
This is the second time that Project Loon has been used to connect people after a disaster.
In early 2016, Project Loon delivered basic internet connectivity to tens of thousands of people in flood-affected zones in Peru in partnership with the Peruvian government and Telefonica.
Project Loon is a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, designed to connect people to the internet in remote parts of the world.
The balloons travel approximately 12 miles (20km) above the Earth's surface in the stratosphere.
Winds in the stratosphere are stratified, and each layer of wind varies in speed and direction, so Project Loon uses software algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go.
It then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction. By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communications network.
The inflatable part of the balloon is called a balloon envelope made from sheets of polyethylene plastic that are 49ft (15 metres) wide and 40ft (12 metres) tall when inflated.
The balloons harness power from card table-sized solar panels that dangle below them, and they can gather enough charge in four hours to power them for a day.
Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area of around 25 miles (40km) in diameter using LTE, also referred to as 4G, technology.
Project Loon is partnering with telecommunications companies and mobile networks to share cellular spectrum.
Ground stations with internet capabilities around 60 miles (100km) apart bounce signals up to the balloons.
The signals can then hop forward, from one balloon to the next, along a backbone of up to five balloons.