On Thursday, July 30, Facebook announced that it has completed production on it’s first drone by its aerospace team in the UK. The unmanned aircraft is being used to offer internet access to remote parts of the world where it is not accessible.
The drone is part of the Facebook program Aquila, named after the constellation. It is another step in Facebook’s goal of connecting the entire world to the internet. The completed drone is planned to make it’s first test flights in the US later this year.
Aquila has the same wingspan as a Boeing 737 at 42 metres (46 yards), but only weighs 880 pounds thanks to it’s lightweight carbon fiber frame. The drone will be able to fly for about three months at a time at high altitudes, circling a 3 kilometre (2 mile) radius. During the day they plan on flying them at 90,000 feet, dropping to 60,000 feet at night to save energy. The reason for the extreme altitude is to keep clear of commercial airplanes as well as problematic weather. The drones will use laser communications technology to provide wireless internet to these regions. Facebook’s laser communications team in California designed and tested a laser which can deliver data at 10s of gigabytes per second, a significant technology breakthrough.
Facebook has begun a war on lack of connectivity, hoping to extend the internet to all parts of the world, no matter how remote. About 10% of the world’s population is living in areas where there is no infrastructure for internet to be able to reach them. Facebook seperately launched Internet.org in 2013, which is an effort to connect the 4 billion non-internet users around the world.
According to Internet.org, “Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, non-profits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.” Samsung, Opera Software, and Nokia are some of the tech companies who have partnered with Facebook to achieve this goal.
According to the Facebook Newsroom article by Jay Parikh, VP of Global Engineering and Infrastructure, their goal is not to build and operate these networks themselves, but rather to advance these technologies to become more efficient to the point where they can be adopted by other companies.
So far Facebook has not had trouble to get proper authorization to test the drones in the US, but will most likely have to overcome legal or policy disputes to have them fly in other areas of the world.