Facebook Drone Project Is a Step Closer to Flight

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Drone Project Is a Step Closer to Flight.

MENLO PARK, Calif. This image provided by Facebook shows the Aquila, a high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft with a wingspan as big as a Boeing 737, designed by Facebook’s aerospace team in the United Kingdom.The unmanned aircraft, Aquila, is part of the social network’s elaborate plan to provide connectivity using satellites, drones, and lasers. “Our mission in the company is to connect everybody in the world,” Jay Parikh, vice president of global engineering and infrastructure, said in a media briefing today (July 30). “There’s 4 billion people in the world that don’t have access to the internet, so we have a lot of work to do to connect everybody.” The drone has achieved speed of “tens of gigabits per second,” about 10 times faster than existing technology. “This is an incredible milestone,” said Yael Maguire, engineering director at Facebook’s Connectivity Lab. “Being able to do that through space, through air has never been done.” There were a number of challenges to designing an internet-beaming drone: a lightweight enough aircraft that can stay at an elevation of 60,000 to 90,000 feet (18,000 to 27,000 meters) and operate at -70 degrees Fahrenheit (-57 degrees Celsius) weather for three months straight. — Facebook has moved several steps closer to fulfilling its grand ambition of building an Internet network in the sky, announcing on Thursday that it has built its first unmanned drone and found a way to vastly increase the capacity of the lasers that will eventually beam data between the drone network and the ground. Powered by the sun, each 1,000 lb. drone would fly lazy circles more than 11 miles above the Earth, providing broadband-level Internet for people in a 50-mile radius below.

Most of the weight is from the structure itself—batteries and its carbon-fiber body—and the payload’s communication equipment weighs about 50 pounds. To affordably connect everyone, we need to build completely new technologies.” A statement issued by Facebook said: “Our team has many of the world’s leading experts in aerospace and communications technology, including from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center. “Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft.” It comes as Google pursues Project Loon, its own mission to bring Wi-Fi to remote countries using giant ‘loon balloons’ said to be able to stay aloft for 100 days at a time.

Instead, a large helium balloon will bring the the aircraft to elevation (harking back to Google’s Project Loon, an experimental project to beam internet via balloons), and the plane will slowly glide down after running its three-month course. The unmanned aircraft are part of a long-term project intended to deliver the Internet to people who live far away from cell towers and fiber optic lines.

Although Facebook is designing the drones and the network as well as solving technical problems, it says it will share its knowledge with partners and hopes to enlist telecommunications companies, aircraft manufacturers and perhaps governments in the actual construction and operation of the system. While many people live in sufficiently connected or urban areas where current methods, such as wires and cellular phones, can provide Internet access, millions of people live where a connection isn’t possible.

The answer the company’s engineers have come up with involves sending planes that can beam down access far above commercial airspace, where there are no commercial flights to run into and no weather to interfere with flight. Sri Lanka said this week that it had signed a memorandum of understanding to eventually bring the Loon project to that country, although Google said many details remained to be worked out and noted that Loon was still in the test phase. A year ago, Facebook launched Internet.org, which has provided limited internet connection to 17 countries through partnerships with local telecom companies. But the initiative has been criticized for perpetuating economic racism by exploiting the poor through a charity-like initiative to increase its user baser. Its deployment has also come under fire for violating net neutrality principles in India because Internet.org provides access to just a few sites, including Facebook.

Maguire told Quartz that the company intends to provide “the full internet,” but also noted that it will work with network operators’ bandwidth needs and business models. Facebook is approaching its drone program almost as it would a software “hackathon,” with teams working on issues like battery power and lasers exchanging ideas with other people working on artificial intelligence and Facebook’s data centers.

The arrangement is similar to an open-source software project, where anyone can draw on a core of publicly available code but is obligated to share improvements with the community. Parikh said Facebook would even be willing to share information with Google to help both companies’ data-in-the-sky efforts. “We would love to collaborate,” he said.

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