Design thinking requires a prototyping mindset. So how does that look like? This is a great example from Google’s effort to build a worldwide network of balloons to provide wifi everywhere. Crazy, yes but step by step with rigorous testing.
Wild concepts must survive rigorous vetting. Here’s how one idea—Wi-Fi delivery system Project Loon—progressed.
Google X’s Rapid Evaluation team bats around lots of issues worth tackling. Project Loon actually started as an idea involving connections between mobile devices. But in June 2011, Rapid Eval head Rich DeVaul decided to shift focus toward increasing Internet access for rural or poor areas.
Lockheed is working on a high-altitude communication airship that can stay in one spot, but keeping such a craft stationary is extremely difficult. DeVaul had an insight: What if an airship floats away but there’s another one behind it? In other words: balloons.
DeVaul bought some $80 weather balloons online and assembled radio transmitters in a cardboard box that could be attached. Then he launched the contraption at the San Luis reservoir, an hour southeast of Google, and drove along under it in his Subaru.
X executives commissioned Loon as an official project in August 2011, hiring a team to build a small fleet of prototypes. Xer Mitch Heinrich began to work on a Loon antenna; his team built a small house in their shop to see how the antenna might attach to customers’ residences.
X brought in entrepreneur Mike Cassidy to manage the project’s rollout as an actual business. The first step was a pilot program in New Zealand, where Loon went live, temporarily, in June 2013. As X now weighs interest from global telecom providers, the team is considering which business models might work best.
The Testing and Scaling Up