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Loon, the internet-beaming weather balloon project that originally started within Google's X Lab, is being shuttered, Alphabet announced today.
After nine years of attempting to turn the idea of giant, autonomous floating weather balloons that send internet down to the world below them into a business, X lab head Astro Teller wrote in a blog that the bubble has finally burst. Although Loon did help out in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and had signed deals with telecoms companies in Africa as recently as last summer, it seems the reality of trying to use these difficult-to-navigate balloons for reliable internet service became too much.
Loon is part of a cadre of millstones around Alphabet's neck. Beyond its sturdy ad business from Google, most of the other companies it has created, such as Google Fiber, Waymo, Wing and Verily — which it calls Other Bets — have yet to turn a profit. Alphabet killed off its Makani project, an attempt generate energy with small airborne turbines, a little less than a year ago.
Most of the Loon team will be disbanded, according to Teller, apart from a small team that will be calling the balloons back home. Teller also said that Google will be pledging $10 million "to support nonprofits and businesses focussed on connectivity, Internet, entrepreneurship and education in Kenya." For the quarter ending Sept. 30, Other Bets lost Alphabet roughly $1.1 billion.
Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.