Alphabet’s Project Loon loses CEO after about six months

Transition is the latest turn in the company’s ambitious attempt to create a communications service with balloons floating in the stratosphere

Image Credit: Supplied
Alastair Westgarth
Gulf News

San Francisco: Tom Moore, a satellite veteran brought in to lead Google’s Project Loon unit, has stepped down after about six months. Alastair Westgarth, head of wireless antenna company Quintel, is taking the spot.

The transition is the latest turn in the company’s ambitious attempt to create a communications service with balloons floating in the stratosphere. X, the research division of Google parent Alphabet Inc, recruited Moore in August after the unit’s earlier leader, Mike Cassidy, stepped down. Moore started in mid-September.

“Alastair’s vision for Project Loon aligns with X’s philosophy of approaching huge problems, at scale, to improve the lives of millions or billions of people,” a spokeswoman for X said. Moore will stay on at X in an advisory role, she added.

At the time, Moore’s hiring was positioned as a key part of turning Loon into a proper business. Giving Google’s experimental projects more independence and paths to revenue was a key rationale behind the creation of Alphabet in 2015. “Tom’s valuable industry experience will help launch us into the commercial stage,” Astro Teller, the head of X, said when Moore joined.

Unlike Cassidy, who primarily worked as an internet entrepreneur before running Loon, Moore had specific industry expertise. He created a satellite-based broadband service provider called WildBlue Communications Inc, which was acquired by satellite company ViaSat Inc, where Moore served as senior vice-president.

Over the past year, a string of executives have departed Alphabet’s divisions outside the main Google internet business. Those who have left include Tony Fadell, who ran Nest, and Craig Barratt, who ran Access, the division that oversaw Google Fiber. Moore declined to comment through an X spokeswoman.

X began testing Loon balloons in 2013, working with wireless operators like Vodafone NZ in New Zealand and Telefonica in South America. Loon announced partnerships with three Indonesian carriers in late 2015, but has not updated the status of those deals.

Last month, X invited reporters to its headquarters to demonstrate the latest advancement of Loon. Its engineers had deployed machine learning to improve flight patterns for the balloon, limiting the numbers needed to provide internet coverage. Originally, the project was conceived to create a global network, blanketing the globe with the massive balloons. The tweak meant Loon could reach commercial service sooner, executives said.

Moore did not attend the session. Teller told reporters that Moore was travelling.

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