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Google Patenting Less Noble Use of Project Loon Tech 87

theodp writes "In June, Google unveiled Project Loon to acclaim from the press for its "moonshot" project that aims to use high-altitude balloons to cheaply provide internet connectivity to rural, remote, and underserved areas of the developing world. So it's interesting to see that a just-published Google patent application for Balloon Clumping to Provide Bandwidth Requested in Advance, which pre-dated the Loon launch by a year, paints a not entirely altruistic picture of balloon-powered Internet access technology. Google describes the invention — which had been kept secret with a non-publication request — as just the ticket for those well-to-do enough to pay a tiered-pricing premium to get faster internet access while attending concerts, conferences, air shows, music festivals, and sporting events where a facility's overtaxed Wi-Fi simply won't do. Hope this revelation doesn't make Bill Gates think any less of the project!"
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Google Patenting Less Noble Use of Project Loon Tech

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @09:34AM (#45442345)

    ..not a non-profit. Using the tech in this way is hardly immoral.

    • ..not a non-profit. Using the tech in this way is hardly immoral.

      Agreed. I'm not sure why Google should be obliged to provide free WiFi to all and sundry, but I'm sure there must be some logic that will appeal to the zealot freeloader.

      OTOH, Google appears to be proposing offering a service in underserved (maybe they mean undeserved?) areas, and I recall a (heavily edited) Slashdot submission I made some time ago to that effect. At that point, the notion of implementing the idea in Tasmania was mooted, which would be welcomed by yours truly, since this state is wilfull

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      That depends on whether you find making a profit to be immoral.

      I know we're right in the middle of the most powerful burst of the world's strongest ever atheistic religion, but it's still quite easy to conceive of a moral system which proscribes profit.

      • What's offensive is not making a (reasonable) profit. It's acting all trippy and cool about helping the poors, and then being all about the profit. If they'd launched the balloon idea saying "We'll make a mint off rock concerts," people would have probably said only, "Interesting" and moved on.

        Also, about that reasonable profit: GOOG has a bigger profit than the GDP of lots of countries. They're making that off tracking you and feeding generally off other people's data and the (publicly funded) internet.
        • Quite.

          Capitalism is an interesting economic system, but has turned into a vehicle for trickery and governance.

          • I agree with that statement, but would like to expand it to all other forms of economic systems as well. Whatever system there is in place, it will be used by humans to get more money/power/toys/etc than others have. It's human nature, and it isn't going to change any time soon.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Wait, what? Are those somehow mutually exclusive?

          If they'd say "Oh, we're gonna help the poor!" and then only launched those balloons over the stadiums - you'd have a point, but you're saying "How dare they _also_ use this idea for making profits!"

          PS: "So where's my check for 10% of what they're making off me?" - I think you used those up to fund all the services you use. Like, you know, Google search or all the sites that opt to use Google's ads and page stats to provide the services and entertainment to t

          • 1) They were duping the public by trying to sell it as a Thing To Help The Poor when their aim has been to sell it as a Thing To Make Money. Dishonesty is a big deal, and trade is simply dysfunctional can't work without it;

            2) Google's the one with the hundreds of billions which Americans have been duped into protecting, so I'm pretty sure it's the one which thinks it's Oh So Entitled.

          • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

            If they'd say "Oh, we're gonna help the poor!" and then only launched those balloons over the stadiums - you'd have a point, but you're saying "How dare they _also_ use this idea for making profits!"

            I think it's basically the idea that Google is better because they do this to "help the poor" and get the positive vibes from that, when in reality it's to make profit first, which are then used to help the poor.

            It's like how GPL advocates always claim GPL is better than BSD because it prevents "closed sourcing"

        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          Wow... So stop using all google products..
          Sorry but Google provides good services and pays for them with advertising. It is no different than radio or Television was before they started the government mandated double dipping with the cable companies.
          Truth is that I do not think we will ever see those loons in service. The costs will be way too high for it work to bring internet to the masses. For one thing the transmitters are to low power. They say that each of them can cover a 40km diameter area. The lif

          • You only need an altitude of around 120 meters to cover the same area and that is a not all that large tower.

            But you need to land to put the tower on, plus a 120m tower is a lot more expensive than a balloon. And then you also have to worry about hardening the package against weather, keeping the towers from being hit by airplanes, etc. Extreme-altitude balloons avoid all of that.

            Plus what about the recovery of the electronics packages? Not all of them will land where they want it to.

            They actually have a very high degree of control over them. And the goal is to make the electronics package inexpensive enough that the inevitable small percentage that gets lost is easily absorbed.

            Add in the costs of He unless they go to Hydrogen to fill them.

            They have thought about that, too, and

            • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

              "But you need to land to put the tower on, plus a 120m tower is a lot more expensive than a balloon."
              Yes but the cost of land in the third world is low and yes a ballon is less expansive but one day?

              "And then you also have to worry about hardening the package against weather, keeping the towers from being hit by airplanes, etc. Extreme-altitude balloons avoid all of that."
              Again I am talking about the 3rd world. 120m is not a very tall tower and aircraft rarely fly that low except to take off and land. In av

              • I agree that towers wouldn't work. It's not clear that balloons will, but it's also not clear that they won't.

                I've seen estimates of numbers of balloons, equipment and operational costs, etc., plus discussions of a lot of other issues you probably haven't considered like, what about countries that don't want to allow Google to fly balloons over them? The winds don't pay attention to lines on the map. The people who are working on this are very bright, and they've been thinking very hard about all of thes

                • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

                  I think towers can work because well they do. Walk outside with your smartphone and you will see that it does. The range issue will be limited with towers to the power of the remote device. If you do not target cell phone level devices and go with fixed sites then you can get much larger coverage area from a tower.
                  "My point: The Project Loon team knows a lot more about this than either of us, and their take is that it might be impossible, but so far it actually looks like it will work."

                  I do not like the don

                • If they have time to work on Loon please tell them.
                  To fix maps. I really want to have the option to search along a route. Send a route that I hand edit to my phone from the Web. And use GPX files with navigator.
                  Stop pretending you do not own Motorola. The MotoX is a great phone but you need to really put a top notch screen on it and the battery from the razor. And a really good camera. Apple has one and WP8 has one.
                  Put KitKat on my Galaxy Nexus... Yes I know it has OMAP but that was your choice.
                  More Google

    • Considering that these are supposed to be helium balloons, and we're facing a global helium shortage - yes, this is an immoral use of the technology. It was already a matter for debate when they were going to waste helium to bring the miracle of Twitter to the earth's rural poor. They're hastening the demise of MRI machines in the name of higher bandwidth for the globe-hopping ultra-rich, that is what I call "evil."

      • Indeed. Though I actually can't think of a reason not to switch to hydrogen on these.... they don't carry living things, operate way above the altitude where airlines are in use, and could be safely recovered after their lift runs out by venting the remaining gas into the air.

        I suppose one could go up if there's a lightning strike at high altitude, but the only difference would be a slightly bigger "whoomph" as the thing falls out of the sky?

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          I have wondered about that myself. Why not hydrogen for all unmanned balloons?

          For that matter, with modern materials and safer designs, manned vehicles could use at least a percentage of hydrogen as well. Slightly more lift, cheaper, and more renewable.

    • Entitlement at its finest.

      How dare they put hard work, money, legal processes, and their own liability on the line in hopes of PAYMENT?!?

      It's as if the whole human race needed food and shelter and charged MONEY for those things!

      But hey, it's another chance to point out that I don't know why timothy still has this job.

  • by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @09:41AM (#45442359) Homepage

    Wait, you don't mean someone has figured out how to use this technology for their own benefit, do you!? The horror! The humanity of it all!!

    • Think they considered hanging a camera on each of those balloons? Nah. Who would want that?

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        they were going to but then lawyers from nfl called.

        it's a fucking business model patent though.. tell me again how those being patentable benefit the public?

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @09:46AM (#45442369)

    The horror, the horror!

  • Patents prevent others from doing the thing outlined in the patent, no more and no less. So, companies other than Google are now prohibited from charging money for balloon wifi during concerts, while Google may or may not charge money for the same? Oh, the horror!
    • They aren't going to charge for it. They're going to use it to track their Google+ users.
    • So, companies other than Google are now prohibited from charging money for balloon wifi during concerts

      A patent covers not the charging for a technology, it covers the use of the technology. Any use, including offering it for free.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "which had been kept secret with a non-publication request"

    This is total BS, patent applications publish automatically after 18months. In order to publish it sooner they actually have to pay. This patent app published exactly on schedule as every other patent application in the western world does, no "non-publication request" or any other such nonsense.

    • by theodp ( 442580 )

      Filing a Non-Publication Request []: "Not very long ago, patent applications were maintained in secrecy until they issued as patents. Today, however, an application is published 18 months after its effective filing date, meaning that anyone can see your invention after you file it. By filing a non-publication request, though, you can keep your application secret during prosecution."

  • Just two more scenarios, such as deploying balloons to set up communication channels over Philippines' islands recently devastated by the Haiyan typhoon... Were these uses also patented, or are they still open to comm-balloon business?

    Certainly these are not music festivals or sports events :-(
    • by theodp ( 442580 )

      The patent application appears to cover this scenario, as well as other disasters. From the filing: "[0127] Random, but similar, events could also trigger a determination of a projected change in bandwidth demand. For example, a disaster event such as a fire could happen at any time at any location. Based on publicly accessible information (e.g., from news sources, social media, the Internet), an inference could be made about a projected change in bandwidth demand due to the specific fire location and speci

      • by thej1nx ( 763573 )
        And what exactly is the problem that you have? Is your hatred for google so unreasonably moronic, that you would rather not permit any communication channels remaining open in disaster areas, lest *horrors* google made some profit? Newsflash!!! Google is a for-profit corporation. They are bloody well supposed to provide the maximum return legally possible to their shareholders, for their investment! From what I have seen, google at least behaves downright angelic while starting people-locating projects like
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How desperate do you have to be to hate Google that you'd try to use this against them when the most evil-sounding description you can come up with is "not entirely altruistic"? How many of your daily actions in life are entirely altruistic? The technology has a lot of promise for helping the under-served, but it's a very large-scale ambitious project, and it does have to return a profit somehow. Getting rich people to pay exorbitant fees for exclusive high-speed connectivity during crowded events, and u

  • by artfulshrapnel ( 1893096 ) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @12:00PM (#45442971)

    I really don't see why an innovation cannot simultaneously be both altruistic in intent and potentially profitable in application.

    Who cares if they can also make some money on their invention that will bring internet to the world's remotest, poorest people at low or no cost? Good. It'll give them a reason to go ahead with it at all speed, and avoid it being shelved if they have a bad quarter.

  • by artfulshrapnel ( 1893096 ) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @12:25PM (#45443119)

    I still have mod points left!

  • He could (and probably would) be arrested for providing material useful to terrorists. Anyone who visits the site is likely to be placed under a veil of suspicion too. The most dangerous act of terrorism is about to be defined as.... 'thinking'.
  • Funny how rather than the realistic idea that the organizers of an event might have use for internet access, TFA assumes some ultra-rich lady would bring her own internet. At say, the Super Bowl, do you think maybe the broadcast crews, the security team, the merchandising companies etc. might want reliable internet access? Nah, I'm sure just some random guy in seat 44K would be the customer.

    This author sure had to work hard at playing stupid to come up with this attack against Google, didn't they.

  • Sour Grapes From Bill Gates

    >Hope this revelation doesn't make Bill Gates think any less of the project!"

    or if Bill Gate's projects involve getting UNICEF to buy from organizations he hold stock in such as Monsanto and GlaxoKlineSmith

  • Google is always there with nice ideas.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"