July 30th, 2015, 22:23 PM
Facebook Internet Drone Ready for Testing
Facebook's solar-powered drone designed to beam connectivity to areas without Internet is complete and ready for testing, the social network announced Thursday.
The so-called Aquila drone, designed by Facebook's aerospace team in the U.K., has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but weighs less than a small car thanks to its design and carbon-fiber frame. The goal is that the aircraft will eventually fly at a high altitude above normal airliners for up to three months at a time, bringing Internet to remote areas of the world using lasers and radio frequency technology.
"When deployed, it will be able to circle a remote region for up to 90 days, beaming connectivity down to people from an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet," Facebook's VP of Global Engineering and Infrastructure, Jay Parikh, said in a statement.
Facebook first tipped the Aquila drone in March at its f8 developer conference. At that time, the social network had already completed a test flight in the U.K., but now the social network is ready for more comprehensive flight testing.
Here's the plan for how it's supposed to work: A ground station will transmit an Internet signal to a "mother" aircraft, which will then communicate with other aircraft in the area using laser technology, according to Andy Cox, engineering lead for Facebook's aviation team. Together, the aircrafts will form a sort-of "constellation," feeding wireless Internet to people within that zone down below.
The company said its laser communications team in Woodland Hills, Calif. recently achieved a "significant performance breakthrough" that could help this idea come to life. They've designed and lab-tested a laser capable of delivering data at 10s of GB per second, which is approximately 10 times faster than the previous state-of-the-art in the industry, to a dime-sized target more than 10 miles away. Facebook is now testing these lasers in real-world conditions.
"When finished, our laser communications system can be used to connect our aircraft with each other and with the ground, making it possible to create a stratospheric network that can extend to even the remotest regions of the world," Parikh wrote.
He added that Facebook isn't interested in building and operating its own Internet networks, however. Instead, the social network is looking to "quickly advance the state of these technologies to the point that they become viable solutions for operators and other partners to deploy."
"Our goal is to accelerate the development of a new set of technologies that can drastically change the economics of deploying internet infrastructure," Parikh wrote.