Google's Project Loon
Balloons have been used for scientific advancement for at least a couple hundred years. Michael Faraday developed the original rubber balloons in 1824 for experiments with hydrogen. NASA used balloons to land a rover on Mars in 2010. In 2009, DARPA used balloons to test the power of social media. I've used balloons as a means of communicating across language barriers.
Now google is using balloons to extend communication across geographical barriers. That's right. Google just launched Project Loon. As well-connected as many of us feel the world has become, the reality is that two thirds of the world's population is not online. Building the network infrastructure to include everyone in the world is mind-boggling. Even if we ignore the huge cost, just imagine trying to run cables the great distances between small villages in remote regions of the planet.
Google's plan is to launch helium-filled balloons into the stratosphere that will serve as nodes in a new communications network. Balloons are fairly low cost, compared to the typical communications satellites in use, and they'll be reachable with just a special antenna on the ground.
My fascination with this started with just the idea that balloons, the material I use to create much of my art, can help unite the world. But then I started thinking that I've used balloons in the same way. Maybe not by launching them a few miles above the earth's surface, but by uniting people on the planet through a common interest. I've established an Internet community of balloon artists. (See BalloonHQ.) I've used balloons to bring individuals together to build large sculptures. (See my TEDxRochester talk.) Why not reach toward the edge of space to connect even more people?
So now I'm thinking I want to work with Google on this. I want to see Airigami creating giant pieces of community art on the ground while they work their magic in the stratosphere. C'mon Google. Giant art projects on the ground could be just what you need to let people know what you're doing in space and to spread the message of what can be done with balloons. If you like the idea, I'm really easy to get a hold of. Just, google me.