How Google's Project Loon internet-balloons got started

On paper, the notion of balloon-provided internet sounds more than a little ridiculous, but that’s just how Google X rolls. Mountain View’s far-off research division has recently spilled its guts to Fast Company, detailing the process for bringing something like Project Loon from concept to reality. To start, every X project must address a problem that affects possibly billions of people and it has to use a radical solution that resembles sci-fi to do so. Oh, and it needs to utilize tech that’s “very nearly” obtainable, if it already isn’t available, too.

Astro Teller is sharing a story about something bad. Or maybe it’s something good. At Google X, it’s sometimes hard to know the difference. Teller is the scientist who directs day-to-day work at the search ­giant’s intensely private innovation lab, which is devoted to finding unusual solutions to huge global problems. He isn’t the president or chairman of X, however; his actual title, as his etched-glass business card proclaims, is Captain of Moonshots–“moonshots” being his catchall description for audacious innovations that have a slim chance of succeeding but might revolutionize the world if they do. It is evening in Mountain View, California, dinnertime in a noisy restaurant, and Teller is recounting over the din how earlier in the day he had to give some unwelcome news to his bosses, Google cofounder Sergey Brin and CFO Patrick Pichette. “It was a complicated meeting,” says Teller, 43, sighing a bit

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