When Drones and the Internet Meet
Facebook built a drone to deliver Internet access.
According to Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure engineering Jay Parikh, 10 percent of the world’s population lives in remote areas that lack access to the Internet. In response, Facebook launched Internet.org, a project aimed at connecting the developing world. The project’s most recent advancement is Aquila, a solar powered drone that will help deliver Internet to rural areas across the globe.
- Aquila was built by an aerospace team in the UK in 14 months.
- It has a wingspan of a Boeing 737 (about 140 feet in diameter), and it weighs about 880 pounds.
- The drone is designed to float 90,000 feet into the air via a helium balloon. At this altitude, Aquila will be above any commercial planes or storms. It will descend down to about 60,000 feet at night to conserve energy.
- With the help of solar energy, batteries, and an electric motor, it can stay in the sky for about 3 months.
- Aquila is covered in light carbon fiber, which when heated (also known as cured) is about two to three times stronger than steel.
How it works
Facebook has been working on laser technology that can deliver 10 gigabits of data per second to a target the size of a dime from over 10 miles away. This speed is comparable to fiber optic services available in the US. According to CNN, this is “fast enough to allow hundreds of thousands of people access to broadband Internet simultaneously.”
Small towers on the ground will receive these signals, which can then be converted to a Wi-Fi or LTE network. The goal is to have multiple drones connect to each other to create a larger network and deliver more coverage. Parikh explains, “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.”
Timeline for the future
Flight testing is set to take place in the US for the remainder of 2015. However, further development will depend on regulatory issues. The Wall Street Journal reports that Yael Maguire, head of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, said, “regulatory issues—not technology—are likely to dictate the speed of the program. Sorting out issues such as radio frequency spectrum and gaining approval to fly over countries’ airspace could take much longer.”
It could be years, but Facebook hopes to bring Internet to all areas of the world with advanced drone technology.