Remember that Project Google has that delivers Wifi to people via a hot air balloon, well Facebook has an answer to that and it’s much cooler. It’s an autopilot drone that Facebook has been investing in for the last two years and it’s bound to pay off because its purpose is to deliver internet to areas that are deprived of it.
With a wingspan of 141 feet, as wide as that of a Boeing 747, the drone is called Aquila. It is covered with solar panels across its wings and is completely made of carbon fibers. The drone has been in the manufacturing stage for almost two years now and it had its first successful flight last month. Mark Zuckerberg personally flew over to Yuma, Arizona to watch this beauty fly over the desert landscape. The drone completed a 96 minute flight at 2,150 feet, three times the time limit that Facebook thought it would run for. Eventually the team wants the drone to fly for 90 days at a time at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet.
However, the coolest part is how the drone delivers Internet. It will beam Internet to a receiver station, 30 miles in any direction via lasers. This will allow connections of up to tens of thousands of gigabytes per second to be delivered. The receiving stations will convert this in to either Wifi or 4G.
At the present time, the drone weighs approximately a thousand pounds and to make it rise above to 90,000 feet, it needs to be much lighter. The problem is that cutting down on weight will mean compromising on batteries which make up the bulk of the weight. That means less power and so on.
This is probably the first time Facebook is in the news for a piece of hardware, not software. And it signals to a time when we will probably be seeing vehicles of all kinds owned by corporations that were previously known for being social networks or search engines.
The drone has been manufactured by Facebook’s two year old Connectivity Lab. It’s part of the Internet.org initiative that provides the Free Basics program to third world countries through different cellular carriers. It has been criticized for acting against net neutrality as it only offers connectivity to certain websites including Facebook.
An Internet Blanket
Initiatives are being carried out all over the world by companies such as Google and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to deliver internet to places where dead zones exist or where very meagre connectivity exists. Project Loon which delivers internet through wind propelled hot air balloons and the 60 Tbps “FASTER” trans pacific cable are both initiatives from Google. SpaceX plans to deliver internet connectivity to the world through a network of satellites and Microsoft and Facebook have also begun work on a trans atlantic cable called MAREA that’ll provide a 160 Tbps internet connection.
While initiatives like this may seem like charity or goodwill, most of it is a huge investment that will have even larger returns for Microsoft and Google and Facebook, companies that thrive on users going on the Internet to search for, use and buy their products.