Loon’s AI can figure out the optimal route for balloons significantly faster than the previous navigation system. It does so with more efficiency as well. Balloons can travel similar or greater distances than before with less power. Loon’s record flight duration is 312 days — it set that benchmark earlier this year. Perhaps the AI system will be able to keep balloons aloft for even longer.
Loon and Google AI used simulations to train the RL model through trial and error before real-world testing began in Peru. The team then assessed its capabilities directly against a human-crafted system called StationSeeker with a 39-day test over the Pacific Ocean. The AI was able to keep balloons in target areas for longer periods while using less energy. That’s important, as it will help to provide more consistent internet coverage to people in a given area.
StationSeeker tended to head straight for a specific target location, but it often flew by and had to reverse course. The AI system was more concerned with staying in the target area as passively as possible to conserve energy for when it’s most needed. It also used complex maneuvers the Loon team hadn’t seen before.