Facebook has prepped a solar-powered drone that apparently has the wing span equivalent of a Boeing 737. Code-named as the Aquila drone, the airliner has been built to provide Internet connectivity in remote areas of the world.
The company says it’s fully prepped to test the Aquila drone, which can fly up to an altitude of 60,000-90,000 feet – above the altitude of commercial aircrafts hence it won’t be affected by weather conditions, and can stay in the air for a period of up to 90 days when deployed.
Featuring a carbon fiber frame, the Aquila drone weighs almost a hundred times less than an actual Boeing 737 and will be tested in the US later this year. The drone will be lifted to its preferred path with the help of helium balloons, as it lacks wheels or any other motor to propel itself.
The Aquila drone is Facebook’s initiative to offer free Internet access to billions living in remote areas of the world without access to Internet connectivity, specifically targeting poor and isolated areas around the globe.
“Our mission is to connect everybody in the world. This is going to be a great opportunity for us to motivate the industry to move faster on this technology,” said Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice-president of engineering.
In addition to the Aquila drone, the social networking giant has also developed a laser to create a link for data sharing among drones, as it can offer a much wider coverage. The laser is apparently 10 times faster than any other the industry has ever seen and can relay tens of gigabytes of data per second, according to company officials.
The social networking giant’s similar initiative Internet.org has already offered more than a billion people in 17 countries across the globe with access to free Internet since its launch a year back. Many include nations who already have basic infrastructure such as 3G connectivity. However, Aquila’s goal is to provide connectivity to that 10 percent of the global population with no infrastructure at all.
Search engine giant Google has a similar programme called ‘Project Loon’, which uses high altitude helium balloons fitted with transistors aimed at offering wireless connectivity to remote regions of the world.
However, these programmes have been heavily criticized by activists including world wide web inventor Tim Bernard Lee, as according to them users get a very limited version of Internet, with access restricted to sites like Facebook, Wikipedia, weather and job listings along with govt. related info.
With that being said, it’s still a great initiative from Facebook to at least give users access to basic online services, given the economic and social constraints of the population residing in these remote regions.