When Hurricane Maria first hit the island of Puerto Rico, hundreds of people lost power and scrambled to find a way to contact their loved ones on the mainland.
Those in the U.S. could do nothing but patiently wait for a phone call that confirmed whether or not their family and friends were okay. Weeks later, more than 40% of the island has regained power but widespread communication outages still exist – especially for those in rural areas. So, while volunteers struggle to gain access to these areas on the ground, Google has taken another route.
Google's Project Loon, which uses weather balloons that float above flight paths to bring internet access to rural areas, has launched in the Caribbean. Google explains that these technologically-advanced balloons rely on already-existing cell towers and other telecommunications infrastructure to transmit signals to those on the ground. According to Engadget, AT&T has been a big part of this project and so far, has helped to restore cell service to about 60% of the island. Though it a very innovative and helpful tool, the project, which started in 2013, is fairly new and is only launched in emergency situations such as this.
Back in March, Peru suffered major flooding and the project was launched for the first and only time until now. On behalf of the project in Puerto Rico, Alastair Westgarth, the head of Project Loon, wrote on Medium, “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.”
While all this telecommunications talk might be confusing, Google shares exactly how they're helping our fellow citizens out in the Caribbean. Watch the video below to find out more!