The social media giant unveiled plans today to test solar-powered drones that could potentially connect the whole world with Internet service.
“Our intention is not to be an operator” Facebook’s VP of engineering Jay Parikh said at a press conference in Menlo Park. “We’re not going to be ‘Facebook ISP.’”
The Aquila drones, fixed wing vehicles with the wingspan of a 737 weighing less than 1,000 pounds, will employ lasers to send comm signals to ground stations. The Aquila can circle an area for up to 90 days and establish Internet connections from 60,000-90,000 feet.
The communication laser can deliver 10s of gigabits per second – about 10 times faster than previous efforts.
“It’s been our mission to find ways to provide internet connectivity to the more than 4 billion people who are not yet online,” Facebook officials wrote in a media briefing.
“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.”
Company official point out that 10 percent of the world’s population lives in remote locations with no Internet infrastructure. “The kinds of infrastructure technologies used everywhere else — things like fiber-optic cable, microwave repeaters and cell towers — may be a challenge to deploy cost-effectively in these regions.”
Parikh told TechCrunch that Facebook may sell or license the drone technology along with the laser systems.
Facebook built its drone team from a 2014 acquisition of Ascenta in March. Yael Maguire, chief of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab told the New York Times that the drone fleet could number up to 1,000 across the world. “We want to serve every person in the world,” he said. “Can we reach a point where everyone on the planet gets the same message at once? I’m looking forward to that day.”
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