Facebook’s Aquila drone ready to fly, laser Internet soon

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Taking Open-Source Software Ethos to Drones.

Facebook has announced the completion of its first full-scale drone, which it says has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and will provide internet access in remote parts of the world.Facebook is developing advanced telecommunications, complete with autonomous laser-firing drones, and it is doing it as if it were a big software project.

The plane would weigh about 880lbs (400kg), said Yael Maguire, the company’s engineering director of connectivity, and operate between 60,000ft (18km) and 90,000ft (27km) – above the altitude of commercial airplanes – so it would not be affected by weather. That may be a more daring idea than solar-powered planes that fly for three months at a time, which the company detailed on Thursday at a news conference at its Silicon Valley headquarters. Unlike traditional aerospace or telecommunications projects, Facebook plans to make public large amounts of what it learns, executives there say, similar to the way people share software code in open-source projects. That is how the Linux operating system, which now powers more of the world’s computers than any competitor, became so widely used. “Getting people to adopt the Internet faster is our end goal,” said Jay Parikh, vice president for connectivity at Facebook. “If this gets used by car companies, and that comes back and helps us with batteries for drones, great.” To build out the drones, called Aquila, Facebook hired people with expertise in areas like solar power and battery materials as well as space laser scientists, and aviation engineers.

Facbook was able to increase that to a 10 gigabit transmission thanks, in part, to working with people who put information on the light inside fiber optic lines. The solar-powered drones are part of a program called Aquila, which according to Facebook executives is geared towards the 10% of the population who do not have any internet access. One method they used, according to Yael Maguire, head of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, was to figure out how to detect information through different wavelengths, somewhat the way fiber optic data moves on different colors of the spectrum. Although Facebook does not immediately face policy or legal hurdles in testing its drone in the US, Maguire said, it was the first company to fly at such altitudes and had a team working with policymakers to help set guidelines.

In addition, the team has been able to use skills, including Facebook’s expertise in analyzing things like family snapshots, for tasks like examining satellite images of villages to accurately judge populations and economic activity. Since the aircraft are communicating with one another via laser, there is a possibility that the drone system could also find and send real-time data about the Earth’s upper atmosphere. In fact, much of the thinking behind opening up the connectivity discoveries was informed by Facebook’s Open Compute initiative, an open-source approach to building huge data centers. The lasers are expected to be in two-way contact with small antennas on the ground, which will then send and receive wireless data with inexpensive phones. Facebook says it has contacted a number of companies involved in both aerospace and telecommunications equipment, though it won’t say which ones, or whether other companies will commit to the project.

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