All posts by Daniel Davies

Google’s balloons to spread internet connectivity in Indonesia

Google’s Project Loon initiative, which aims to provide internet access to remote corners of the world, has teamed up with three mobile networks to begin testing balloon-powered internet over Indonesia in 2016.

The three mobile providers — Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata — will work with Google to provide a continuous ring of connectivity around the nation. Currently, only around one in three of Indonesia’s 250 million residents are connected to the internet.

Google’s work in Indonesia forms part of its larger goal of bringing the power of the internet to millions of individuals, wherever they are, for the very first time.

Mike Cassidy, vice-president of Project Loon, said in a Google+ post earlier in the year: “One of the things we do is partner with local telco in every country.”

Image courtesy of Project Loon

Image courtesy of Project Loon. Featured image courtesy of I used a Nikon

Google’s deal with the three Indonesian mobile networks is similar to the deal it struck with Vodafone in New Zealand and will allow the telecommunications companies to expand its network coverage.

Project Loon is Google’s attempt to release a global network of internet-providing high-altitude balloons.

The system works by allowing Loon balloons to ascend, like weather balloons, until they reach the stratosphere, where they drift higher than 18km, safely above the altitudes used for aviation.

The balloons that Google uses are capable of riding the wind to travel where they need to go. They also have the benefit of being able to coordinate with other balloons to provide stable coverage on the ground, and their electronics are entirely solar powered.

“Our mission control system allows us to track every balloon, and lets us optimally position the balloons to provide coverage exactly where people who need internet coverage are,” said Cassidy.

Google first revealed its plan to spread internet connectivity by releasing balloons into the atmosphere in June 2013, when about 30 of the balloons were launched from New Zealand.

Since then the project has been tested in New Mexico, Chile and Sri Lanka, and the team behind Project Loon plans to launch more than 300 balloons throughout 2016.

Cassidy said: “The technology is working; we’re getting close to the point where we can bring the internet to people around the world.”

Toyota’s ‘talking cars’ represent the next step towards driverless vehicles

While Toyota is still working to turn driverless cars into a reality, the car giant has announced that by the end of the year it will release a number of models that utilise an on-board system to communicate with each other.

Toyota’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) has been developed to allow cars to commutate with the road and other vehicles via its dedicated ITS frequency. This means cars will be contextually aware of roads, pedestrians and other vehicles. The implementation of the technology will ensure drivers are alerted when unseen dangers are approaching.

By having the ability to communicate with each other, cars will be able to detect the distances between them and their relative speeds. Toyota hopes the inclusion of acceleration and deceleration information from surrounding vehicles will make driving safer by helping to reduce traffic congestion and enable more fuel-efficient driving.

To be fully effective, the system does rely on the installation of compatible communication devices, and Toyota hopes “a large number of automakers and onboard device manufacturers will move to commercialise such technologies”.

However, the cars released by Toyota — the ITS safety system will be fitted as standard on three models sold in Japan by year end — represent the world’s first safe-driving support system to employ road-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-vehicle communications via a dedicated ITS frequency.

If the technology were to become widespread, then the installed systems would be capable of alerting drivers to traffic light statuses, of sending information about low-speed or stationary vehicles to prevent rear-end collisions and of giving forewarning about the presence of other vehicles and pedestrians in drivers’ blind spots.

Giving cars the ability to speak to each other is the latest step in Toyota’s attempt to make next generation of safety devices common on roads across the globe.

Earlier this month, the car manufacturer announced testing had begun on automated highway driving technologies, with the aim of launching related products by around 2020.

As the above video shows, Toyota’s Highway Teammate concept car — a modified Lexus GS — features equipment that enables automated driving on motorways by using on-board technology to evaluate traffic conditions, make decisions and take action during highway driving.

Once behind the wheel, the driver has the option of taking control of the car, or they can choose to allow the car to do the hard work by switching on automated driving. The car can then use multiple external sensors to recognise nearby vehicles and hazards, and select appropriate routes and lanes.

The steering wheel, accelerator, and brakes would be operated automatically to achieve the appropriate speed and driving lines in much the same way as a person would.