Potential purchase of drone specialists Titan Aerospace will allow Facebook to further expand its Internet.org connectivity project
Social networking giant Facebook is reportedly looking to unmanned drones to boost its Internet.org connectivity project with the $60m purchase of pioneering firm Titan Aerospace.
A report from TechCrunch has revealed that the two companies are in discussion regarding an acquisition, which would see Titan build around 11,000 of its Solara 60 drones to help Facebook further its campaign to spread global web connectivity.
Titan’s solar powered drones, classified as “atmospheric satellites”, can remain in flight for up to five years without needing to land and be recharged, and are capable of travelling 4 million kilometres running on its solar power supply.
Designed initially for weather monitoring and disaster recovery, the drones fly at a near-orbital altitude above 60,000 feet, meaning they are outside of the airspace of most countries and can effectively operate like satellites with far lower operating costs, which the company calls “atmospheric parking”.
The drones weigh 160kg and can carry a payload of 32kg, which means they could well carry cameras, GPS monitors or web connectivity equipment. A drone can be piloted from a control facility on the ground, and have a mean speed of 64mph, meaning it should be able to move and focus on any area easily.
Aiming to connect ‘the next five billion users’, Facebook’s Internet.org project looks to spread web access across the developing world. It was a major theme in Mark Zuckerberg’s press event at Mobile World Congress, where he described the project as ‘an on-ramp to the Internet’.
The company has so far signed up companies including Nokia, Opera, Samsung and Qualcomm to form a collective working on making internet access cheaper for people around the world when using their smartphones and mobile devices. Following its recent $16bn acquisition of WhatsApp, Facebook is also looking at how best to incorporate the messaging service into Internet.org, with IM and SMS services already a commonplace way of keeping in contact in markets such as Africa.
At Mobile World Congress, Facebook announced a range of projects related to Internet.org, including a pilot project for testing mobile technologies in Rwanda, a study from Deloitte into connectivity issues in developing countries, a Unilever research project into Internet connectivity in rural India and a GSM Association (GSMA) initiative to reduce mobile connectivity costs in developing countries.
The company also announced a joint project with Ericsson called the Internet.org Innovation Lab, which looks to simulate networking conditions in various developing countries around the world in order to allow engineers to optimise applications, networks, devices and services for particular markets. It is expected to open in the second half of this year.
Bringing Internet access to the developing world is one of the major challenges facing the technology industry, with Google also developing a similar project called Project Loon. This campaign, currently being trialled, looks at using balloons to spread Internet connectivity over remote areas.
“We believe that it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below,” Google project lead Mike Cassidy said of the project.
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