Facebook in Flight

Meet the solar-powered drone that will help bring the internet to people. That's a friend you'll definitely want to add.

Facebook has successfully completed a test flight of a solar-powered drone that will beam the internet from the sky.

Credit - Facebook

Credit – Facebook

The drone, called Aquila, is a carbon fiber aircraft that weighs about a third of an electric car but has a wingspan bigger than a Boeing 737 airplane.

It flies on solar power during the day and battery power at night (its batteries are responsible for about 50 percent of its mass).

The efficient aerodynamics of the drone allow it to cruise at 60-90,000 feet (above commercial air traffic) using about as much power as three hair dryers.

When deployed, it will be part of a wider fleet of aircraft bringing the internet to people within a 60-mile diameter for up to 90 days at a time.

[Also on Longitudes: Getting Life-Saving Medicines…from a Drone]

The test flight

The first flight of the full-size craft lasted for 96 minutes – that’s more than three times longer than the originally planned 30 minutes. At the test-flight cruising altitude of 2,150 feet, Aquila consumed around 2,000 watts of power, or a little more than one hairdryer’s worth.

How it will work

Facebook’s drone fleet will use “free space laser communications” to communicate between aircraft and radio technology to beam the internet signal from the fleet to receivers located on the ground.

The laser technology delivers data 10 times faster than current state-of-the-art competitors and can target an area the size of a dime (about 18mm) from more than 10 miles away.

The problem

Credit - Facebook

Credit – Facebook

With Aquila, Facebook is trying to solve the problem of 4 billion people without internet access. More than 1.6 billion of those people live in remote, difficult-to-access locations that lack mobile broadband networks. The traditional internet delivery method – mobile towers connected together by fiber – is too expensive for these rural areas.

The plan is a continuation of Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org initiative, which aims to bring the internet to the poorest parts of the world.goldbrown2

[Also on Longitudes: The Helping Drone]

This article originally appeared on World Economic Forum and was republished with permission.


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Henry Taylor is the social media producer for the World Economic Forum.

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