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Researchers at Google have moved a step closer to rolling out a network of huge balloons to provide internet connectivity to billions of people around the world, particularly those in difficult-to-reach rural areas.
The Project Loon team, part of the company's X research lab, said it can now use machine learning to predict weather systems.
The advance means Google has much more control over where its balloons reach, making it possible to focus on a specific region, rather than circumnavigating the globe.
"We can now run an experiment and try to give service in a particular place in the world with ten, twenty or thirty balloons," rather than the hundreds needed previously, the company said.
"Real users" will be able to make use of the system in the "coming months", however, the company did not specify where the initial roll out would take place.
Google's aim is to provide connectivity to around four billion people in the world who do not have access to the internet, particularly those in difficult-to-reach rural areas, 'BBC News' reported.
The company has experimented with beaming down connectivity from a network of huge, tennis-court sized balloons rather than undertaking huge construction projects to replicate connectivity networks in the developed world.
The balloons float in the stratosphere around 18 kilometres high. By raising or lowering altitude, the balloons can be caught in different weather streams, changing direction.
By using machine-learning algorithms, Google thinks it has found a way to predict weather with enough accuracy to make it possible to hover balloons over a relatively small area for a long period of time.
The firm was last year able to keep a cluster of balloons over Peru for three months.