Aquila drone project will see Internet laser-beamed to unconnected parts of the world from 90,000ft in the sky
Facebook has unveiled a drone with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 that will provide internet access to parts of the world that are not yet connected to the web.
The drone, part of a project called Aquila, will begin flight trials this year, according to the social network.
60,000ft – 90,000ft
Weighing in at 400kg, Aquila will fly between 60,000ft and 90,000ft as to avoid adverse weather conditions and commercial air routes.
“Aquila is a solar powered unmanned plane that beams down internet connectivity from the sky. It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “But weighs less than a car and can stay in the air for months at a time.”
Zuckerberg said that the laser mounted to the drone can transmit data at 10 gigabits per second, ten times faster than any previous system Facebook has tested. It can accurately connect with a point the size of a US 5 cents coin from more than 10 miles away.
“This effort is important because 10 percent of the world’s population lives in areas without existing internet infrastructure” said Zuckerberg. “To affordably connect everyone, we need to build completely new technologies.”
Jay Parikh, vice-president of engineering at Facebook, said: “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.”
The drone took 14 months to build, and will be airborne for 90 days at a time, constantly circling in a two-mile radius. The drone is the next step in Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, a program with the goal of connecting developing and unconnected parts of the world up to the Internet.
“Since we launched Internet.org, it’s been our mission to find ways to provide internet connectivity to the more than 4 billion people who are not yet online,” said Parikh. “Many of these people live within range of at least a 3G wireless signal, and our work in the last year with mobile operators across 17 countries has provided more than a billion people with access to relevant basic internet services.”
The race for the skies
Facebook’s announcement that it will soon begin trials comes as Google ramps up efforts on its Project Loon program, an initiative that sees giant balloons beam down Internet to regions without access.
Google has been working on Project Loon since 2013. The project uses high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of 20 miles to create an aerial wireless network with up to 3G-like speed.
This week, Sri Lanka announced it would be the first to use Google’s Project Loon to cover the country in access to the Internet. Whilst only in a preliminary discussion stage, Google would work with the existing Internet providers in Sri Lanka to enhance their Internet service.