Yup, you heard that correctly...WiFi via a balloon. This is a very exciting endeavor and one that is definitely within the realm of possibility. And not only is this possible, but it is also quite complementary to my colleague's idea of smartphones as disaster aid.
For the past number of years, the advances we have made in software and hardware have been amazing and quite useful, including helping us to better sharing and analyze information in real-time and across domains and organizations. However, the advances have significantly increased our dependence on internet connectivity.
My interest in WiFi balloons was first piqued when Google first publicized Project Loon. Project Loon helps bring internet to world, especially for 3rd world countries. The project is very much in pilot phase, but they have a couple successful test flights under their belt.
As a quick aside, this project also falls in line with the belief that internet access should be a human right, not a privilege. This debate will likely continue for a while, but for now, there is a huge need in disaster operations for this kind of technology.
In fact, The University of Michigan is working on such a project. Aaron Ridley and a team of researchers are looking at how high-altitude balloons can be launched within an hour of a disaster and carry WiFi routers to impact zones. According to the University of Michigan:
The balloons would become platforms from which Internet-to-ground signals could be sustained and controlled throughout emergencies. This kind of rapid response and reliable, real-time communications with first responders could mean the difference between life and death for otherwise helpless victims.
This is quite promising as it has the potential to build capacity and redundancy for one of our critical dependencies...Internet access.
How do you see this being deployed in a disaster?