Facebook builds solar-powered drone to provide Internet access

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facebook drone aguila

MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA — Facebook has announced that it is planning to test fly its own drone that is designed to bring Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world.

 “Our intention is not to be an operator” Facebook’s VP of engineering Jay Parikh told an assembly of reporters. “We’re not going to be ‘Facebook ISP.’”

Instead, Facebook plans to work with carriers around the world to equip them with these drones so they can sell Internet connectivity to the 10 percent of the population in remote areas out of reach of existing mobile networks. Facebook also says national governments have also expressed interest in getting Aquila drones for their countries.

Facebook has largely billed its Internet.org project as a humanitarian effort to bring people into the knowledge economy. But Parikh confirmed to me that selling or licensing the solar drones, Free Space Optics lasers, and other technologies are options. That means Facebook could earn money while fulfilling its mission to connect the whole world.

Yesterday on its earnings, Facebook reported a massive year-over-year increase in expenditures from $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion per quarter, mostly for R&D of projects like these drones. Selling or licensing them could recoup those costs.

The first of Facebook’s Aquila drones is fully built

The drone, named Aquila, has a 140-foot wingspan, the same as a Boeing 737, but only weighs 880 pounds, about a third of the weight of a Prius, according to Tech Crunch. The unmanned aircraft is able to fly between 60,000 and 90,000 feet in the air, and can stay airborne for 90 days at a time.

According to Facebook, the drones can offer Internet speeds of 10 gigabits a second to an area 50 miles across, and hit a target as small as a dime from 10 miles away. Tech Crunch reports that the data speed is 10 times faster than what was previously possible.

Facebook is now doing ground tests of the drone and plans to roll it out for testing, likely somewhere in the U.S., over the next year.

According to the BBC, Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice president of global engineering and infrastructure said, “When finished, our laser communications system can be used to connect our aircraft with each other and with the ground, making it possible to create a stratospheric network that can extend to even the remotest regions of the world.”

Facebook’s specialists explain how it will work 


Facebook VS. Google

Not only Facebook wants to connect the whole world. Google’s Project Loon uses lighter-than-air balloons to beam Internet down to people in remote areas. Yesterday Google announced that it’s partnered with the government of Sri Lanka to blanket the entire country with connectivity. Facebook and Google are racing because both want people to remember them as the company that granted them the Internet.



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