Facebook’s Aquila Aircraft, Which Can Beam Data At 10Gb/s Using Laser Beams …

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A Facebook Project to Beam Data From Drones Is a Step Closer to Flight.

Earlier today, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company had completed construction on its first, full-scale aircraft, dubbed Aquila. Facebook says it will begin test flights later this year of a solar-powered drone with the wingspan of a Boeing 737, the next stage of its campaign to deliver Internet service to remote parts of the world. Facebook has talked about Aquila before—it’s essentially a solar-powered, unmanned aircraft that can beam data to the ground using lasers, while airborne. — 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. The drone will hover between 60,000 feet and 90,000 feet (20 and 30 km), above the altitude of commercial airplanes, so that it is not affected by problematic weather. ‘I’m excited to announce we’ve completed construction of our first full scale aircraft, Aquila, as part of our Internet.org effort,’ Mark Zuckerberg revealed.

Now the company says that the unmanned aerial vehicle, made of ultralight composite materials and weighing 880 pounds, is ready for in-flight tests in the upper atmosphere, most likely in the United States. “We have completed plane No. 1,” Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice president for global engineering and infrastructure, said at a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. At a summit in New York earlier this year, Facebook’s engineering director announced the vehicles will be closer in size to jumbo jets, than traditional drones, and they’ll soar at 65,000ft (19,800 metres). Facebook, whose primary business is operating the world’s largest social network, has been working on a range of projects to extend Internet access to the four billion or so people who don’t have it, including teaming with phone carriers to offer free access to Facebook and other basic services in developing countries through its Internet.org app. Zuckerberg explains in his post announcing the completion of Aquila, “This effort is important because 10% of the world’s population lives in areas without existing internet infrastructure.

To affordably connect everyone, we need to build completely new technologies.” In addition to designing and building the solar powered, lightweight aircraft, Facebook also pioneered some interesting laser communication technology. Facebook previously said the drones will be ‘relatively cheap’ – although did not specify a cost – and will be most effective for suburban areas that do not have the cables or infrastructure to carry internet or telephone signals. Google, Facebook’s rival for the attention of Internet users, is pursuing its own plan, called Project Loon, to provide Internet access through a network of drifting high-altitude balloons. The California-based tech giant has joined forces with Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung and other tech firms to develop the planes in an initiative called Internet.org. That’s ten times faster than any previous system, and it can accurately connect with a point the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.” Transmitting data with lasers is nothing new.

Expanding internet access could create another 140 million new jobs, lift 160 million people out of poverty and reduce child mortality by hundreds of thousands of lives. A ground station will transmit a radio internet signal to a “mother” aircraft, which will then in turn feed other aircraft in the constellation using free space laser communication tech. Like a watch, “there are a lot of moving parts here that need to move in concert to make the network work,” Yael Maguire, director of engineering at Facebook’s connectivity lab, said at the news conference.

Zuckerberg closes his announcement with, “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.” I’m hoping their efforts pay off. Maguire said that under the leadership of Hamid Hemmati, a former NASA laser scientist, Facebook has figured out how to transmit data using lasers at a speed of tens of gigabits per second — roughly 10 times as fast as previous technologies allowed. Facebook is approaching its drone program almost as it would a software “hackathon.” Teams working on issues like battery power and lasers are 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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