Like many people, I’ve been watching the aftermath of the recent hurricanes, concerned about the short- and long-term well being of survivors. In addition to devastating damage done to homes, agriculture and other businesses, many areas still do not have basic services, including safe water, power and communications.

The United States Federal Communications Commission recently gave Google license to deploy solar-powered helium balloons with the capability to provide emergency cellular reception to parts of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The balloons are part of Project Loon, an initiative to provide internet service to remote areas throughout the world.

The balloons are placed in the stratosphere at points with optimal wind speed and direction. Together, the balloons deployed in a region become an aerial wireless network, and locations on the ground with special antennas and individual LTE users gain access to the internet.

Project Loon will enable government agencies to coordinate recovery efforts, and people will be able to reconnect with their families and friends. This pilot effort will test the concept to see if it provide access to underserved communities, perhaps at a much larger scale.