Puerto Rico’s damaged infrastructure has caught the attention of Google, Tesla and other firms that are pitching ideas such as cellular-signal-relaying balloons and off-grid power distribution.
A temporary, floating mobile cell relay system, dubbed Project Loon, is in development by the research-and-development arm of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. “The first balloons lasted a day and a half, two days in the air … but we got them up to 100 days through testing,” says Mahesh Krishnaswamy, head of Project Loon manufacturing, in a press statement. The solar-powered balloons reach altitudes of 65,000 ft and can transmit and receive LTE signals to and from users’ cell phones.
The FCC on Oct. 7 granted Google an experimental license to deploy Project Loon balloons over Puerto Rico. “More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “[Project Loon] could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s tweeted that he could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with battery banks and solar arrays. The offer got the attention of the island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, who set up a phone call with Musk following a Twitter exchange.
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