Facebook launches Aquila solar-powered drone for internet access

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook ready to test giant drone for Internet service.

In its latest announcement, Facebook reveals to have completed building its first full-scale drone, Aquila, that aims at providing Internet access to the most remote parts of the world. Aquila, the high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft, which was designed by the company’s UK-based aerospace team, is ready for flight testing, said Jay Parikh, vice-president of Global Engineering and Infrastructure, in a blog post. Mark Zuckerberg has announced the completion of Aquila, Facebook’s first unmanned plane that beams down internet connectivity from the sky, as part of his project with Internet.org. “It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, but weighs less than a car and can stay in the air for months at a time,” Zuckerberg said in a statement posted on his Facebook blog on Thursday. “We have also made a breakthrough in laser communications technology. Facebook Inc.’s new solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle, which is complete and ready for testing, aims to provide Internet connectivity in remote locations across the world using laser and radio frequency technology.

The project is part of a broader effort by Facebook that also contemplates using satellites and other high-tech gear to deliver internet connectivity to hundreds of millions of people living in regions too remote for conventional service. Though Facebook is better known for online software that lets people share news with friends, watch viral videos — and view commercial advertising — engineers in a unit called the Connectivity Lab are working on a different set of problems. Facebook also has a separate but related initiative that works with wireless carriers to provide limited mobile internet service at no cost, in countries where residents are too poor to afford traditional wireless plans. But the company invited reporters to hear an update on its effort to provide service to about 10 per cent of the world’s population who live in regions where it is not practical or too expensive to build the usual infrastructure for internet service.

It has been experimenting with different technologies, including aircraft, satellites and terrestrial solutions to “change the economics of deploying Internet infrastructure”. “We are really focused on regions which do not have any Internet connectivity. Facebook’s drone was developed in part with engineering expertise that joined the company when it acquired a British aerospace startup, Ascenta, last year. That’s why we invested on solar power aircraft and laser solution mechanism,” said Yael Maguire, director of engineering at the Facebook Connectivity Lab, in a video blog post. “We have to challenge every assumption.

Facebook engineering vice president Jay Parikh said the team created a design that uses rigid but light-weight layers of carbon fibre, capable of flying in the frosty cold temperatures found at high altitudes, for an extended period of time. We challenged the means by which Internet is delivered.” Connectivity Lab, which was set up in March 2014, comprises a team that is working on new aerospace and communication technologies to improve and extend Internet access under Internet.org.

The plane will first hone in on the general location of the laser on the ground, proceeding to target it further and lock onto the location so that it can start beaming down the internet. “Over the coming months, we will test these systems in the real world and continue refining them so we can turn their promise into reality,” Zuckerberg further posted. Although Facebook does not immediately face policy or legal hurdles in testing its drone in the United States, Maguire said, it is the first company to fly at such altitudes. For the plan to work, Facebook’s engineers are also counting on a recent breakthrough they’ve made in laser optics, which Mr Maguire said would allow them to transmit data at up to 10 gigabits per second.

The 11-year-old social networking site, which posted a 39% increase in sales to$4.04 billion for the quarter ended June, saw net income declining 9.1% to $719 million, primarily because of heavy spending on employees. Facebook hopes to share the technology with telecommunications carriers and development agencies, which it hopes will build and operate the drone networks, Mr Parikh said. “We’re not going to operate this ourselves,” he added. “We’re focused on finding ways to drive the industry to move faster.”

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