Strange things happen when the world’s most popular tech company begins to play with balloons

The top brass at Google were facing a bizarre situation — they were running out of names for their projects. Not only were there so many experiments at the Google X lab, but there was stiff competition from fellow technology companies that were appropriating several nomenclatures when naming their products. For instance, Google could never think of naming its venture after a dessert, not while Android, its own acquisition, was around. Nor could it name its projects after wild cats when Apple was using the same line of thought for its OS X.

It was also a challenge for Google because after Google Earth, Google Space and Google Sky, the other natural elements couldn’t follow. Google Air wasn’t possible because Nike had already appropriated that turf. Nor could Google Fire happen, thanks to Kindle Fire. Besides, Google was in no mood to compete with Deepa Mehta and have projects that shared their names with her movie titles. So they did away with the natural elements fixation and chose to work with balloons instead.

Balloons would be sent into the ozone for the good of humanity (Now you know why Google’s slogan is ‘Don’t be evil’). The G-team picked up around 40 giant helium-filled balloons, loaded them with hi-tech hardware and some mind-blowing software, and launched them skywards. Now, seeing giant objects in the sky can lead to one of two things — paranoia or speculations of paranormal activities. The former had some basis as people were already scared that Google could read their mail. (“How else would those ads for Thai massage and Ting Ling lingerie magically appear in the right side panel?”) And now, with those balloons looking down from the stratosphere, what if they managed to peep through strategically positioned bathroom ventilators and clicked snaps at 60 frames a second, in fast, continuous shooting mode? Worse, what if these snaps were accidentally discovered in Google maps, when one searched for 2nd Main Road, Indira Nagar, and then zoomed in?

However, the public was assured that no such thing was going to happen and that the balloons were up there purely to provide Internet connectivity in remote places like the Swiss Alps. (Bollywood will now have to worry about crew members leaking out songs even as they are being shot. On the positive side, mountaineers will no longer have to plant flags or leave behind a plaque that says that they made it there — they can simply update their Facebook status.)

Masses of floating objects invariably lead to mass hysteria that the aliens are landing, and the balloons were sure to cause a scare. Out of sheer concern for the palpitating public, Google decided not to call the initiative Project UFO — Unerringly Finding Objects. Instead they chose to name it after the balloons themselves.

But ‘Project Balloon’ or ‘Google Balloon’ didn't have that ring to it. So, the option was to split the word balloon and use part of it. They couldn’t name it Project Ball — all those cool images of Google offices and Google employees having fun had already given them quite a reputation. Now, a name like that would only make people who had a sneaking suspicion about Google employees having a ball, absolutely sure of the fact that Google employees were indeed having a ball. Hence they took the latter part of balloon and named it ‘Project Loon’. For all those who thought that sending balloons into the air for connecting people (Nokia simply had two people shake hands) was the nuttiest thing one can do, this played right into their hands — just go online to see the kind of puns and jokes doing the rounds now.

Thus, through its helium-powered, High Altitude Platforms (HAP) set aloft 12 miles above the earth, using advanced flight control systems, solar panels and internet circuit boards, Google succeeded in proving a century-old hypothesis — technology’s a lot of hot air.

(sureshl.india@gmail.com)

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