Tesla and Google adopt Puerto Rico as tech laboratory

Given the rather anemic (and corrupt, it would seem) response by the Trump administration to the absolute disaster that is post-Maria Puerto Rico, Tesla, along with Google’s parent company Alphabet, are taking the ill-fated island under their technological wings.

project loon ballooon
A Loon takes off from Nevada and begins its long journey to Puerto Rico. Credit: Alphabet, Project Loon.

In what the company dubs “Project Loon”, Alphabet has unleashed a swarm of 4G telecommunications balloons (called “Loons”) high above Puerto Rico to bring life-saving digital communications back to the island. While at first they might sound/look like simple weather balloons, the technology that allows them to work autonomously, moving on their own to whatever location — both horizontally and vertically — will provide the best wireless signal, is actually quite remarkable.

It’s also experimental. As Alastair Wesgarth, head of Project Loon, commented on his blog:

“Project Loon is still an experimental technology and we’re not quite sure how well it will work, but we hope it helps get people the information and communication they need to get through this unimaginably difficult time.”

Being unarmed, of course, I don’t foresee Project Loon causing any Terminator/SkyNet-like problems… but one does wonder where this technology is going.

What could be better than helping out a Children’s Hospital in need?? Credit: Tesla.

Tesla, meanwhile, is getting in on the action by installing solar panels and a battery storage unit outside a children’s hospital. The project is expected to showcase the utility of using micro-grids to built resilience into the Puerto Rican power network.

By constructing a series of independent but inter-linked micro-grids running on renewables, rather than a few large plants burning imported fossil fuels, it’s hoped that Puerto Rico will be much better equipped to weather the next super-hurricane that crosses its path.

While all of this seems quite sweet and well-intentioned — and it probably is — it’s worth keeping in mind that the two companies certainly stand to benefit from this show of good-will. It will provide a nice little boost to PR as well as serving as a proving-ground for their new technologies. A win-win, I suspect, as long as those Loons don’t get too far out of line.


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