Project Loon reveals its Chicken Little balloon autolauncher

26 Feb 2016

Before testing got underway at the Project Loon base in Puerto Rico

As Google prepares to roll out its Project Loon balloons to bring internet to far-flung locations, the team behind it has given us a look at one of its balloon autolaunchers, Chicken Little.

Having so far tested its internet-beaming balloons across millions of kilometres of dense jungles and barren lands, Google’s Project Loon has designated the wilderness of Indonesia as the site of the first trial for its 250m residents.

However, before that can happen, the project’s engineers have been busy working in Puerto Rico to develop the launching systems that will act as pitstops for the balloons.

Future Human

According to Project Loon’s Google+ post on the team’s progress, it says that the autolauncher system – dubbed Chicken Little – is a 55ft-high custom-built crane that is designed to “lift and launch our tennis-court sized balloons in under 30 minutes.”

With this system, the team says, these portable autolaunchers will allow the team to move its entire operation to relatively remote areas on short notice – such as when the wind pattern changes.

While Indonesia is set to be the first national test for Project Loon, it is also expected to be gradually rolled out to other parts of Asia, west Africa and South America by the end of 2016.

In the meantime, here are some pretty cool photos of the engineering team at work with Chicken Little.

Project Loon at night

Steering Chicken Little autolauncher

Project Loon tech

Running final checks on balloon hardware before test

Project Loon loading

Lifting the balloon up for launch

Project Loon launched

And away it goes!

Project Loon El Toro

The team’s local mascot, El Toro

All images via Project Loon

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic