57% of the world is without Internet access and can’t use Facebook to post new boyfriend pictures, or use Google to search for new boyfriends. They can’t even read this post (gasp.) Never fear, Facebook and Google are racing to get new technology in the air to remedy the situation.
Both companies are developing technology to beam internet to the ground from the stratosphere. While Google’s “Project Loon” involves huge helium balloons carrying data transcievers, Facebook’s new Aquila test drone will involve lasers transferring data between aircraft.
At this point, Google is a bit ahead in the contest. The Project Loon balloons have been in the air for almost two years. “We’ve flown almost 1,000 balloons at this point,” Mike Cassidy, vice-president of Project Loon, told the BBC. “We’ve flown almost 20 million kilometres around the world. One of our balloons went around the world 19 times.”
Facebook’s giant Aquila drone has yet to fly. Built in Somerset, England, the drone is 142 ft. wide but weighs “less than a Toyota Prius,” say the project’s engineers. Facebook hopes to build a fleet of the drones which carry radio transmitters to beam data across a 100mile range on the ground below. While 2 weeks is about the maximum that current drones can stay in the air, Aquila’s goal is to stay aloft for up to 3 months at a time. Google claims that several of the Project Loon balloons have stayed up for 150 days, a possible advantage in the balloon technology.
Rumors have been flying that Google has also quietly registered a new drone design for testing with the FAA; but the company so far has not publicized a new drone-based Internet project.
While beaming Internet service to the ground in remote areas of Africa may seem like science fiction, you can’t bet against a company looking to expand its market.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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