The project was born by X, the self-described factory for experimental projects, which also developed the company’s services for unmanned vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles. However, Alphabet considered Loon’s business model unsustainable and said it could not achieve low enough costs to continue operating.
“The road to commercial viability has been much longer and more risky than we had hoped,” said Astro Teller, who leads X, in a blog post. “So we made the difficult decision to imprison Lun.”
Loon, which debuted in 2013, was separated from the X Division three years ago. The project is designed to serve rural parts of the world that do not have a robust broadband infrastructure, serving as flying cell towers.
For Google, the effort was not just altruism. If it succeeded, it would be a way to strengthen the technology giant’s huge software business. The more people a company can get online, the more people they can persuade to use its services, such as search, maps and YouTube.
Before the formwork, Lun had already begun commercial deployment. In July, the company launched a pilot service in Kenya. The technology has previously been tested in emergencies, including in Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria engulfed the entire island in 2017.
Teller said employees who worked on the project will be reassigned to Google and Alphabet, but a small group of workers will remain on the Loon team to end the Kenyan program.