Menu
Facebook aims to launch unmanned drone by year-end

Facebook aims to launch unmanned drone by year-end

The aircraft is designed to provide Internet access to people in underserved areas

A carbon fiber tube mockup, which would hold the battery for Facebook's Aquila aircraft.

A carbon fiber tube mockup, which would hold the battery for Facebook's Aquila aircraft.

At 140 feet, it has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, but carries no passengers -- and it's much lighter too, weighing in at no more than 1,000 pounds. And within the next couple months, Facebook hopes to get its drone off the ground on an inaugural test flight.

Named Aquila, the aircraft is the product of more than a year's work at the social networking giant. Its function is not to drop retail items from the clouds like Amazon's drones, but to provide Internet access to the hundreds of millions of people who don't have it in under-served parts of the world. Facebook aims to partner with carriers and other companies to provide connectivity, potentially at a lower cost than typical infrastructure like cell phone towers.

Aquila comes out of Facebook's Connectivity Lab, formed last year to develop new technologies for expanding Internet access. The company also hired team members from U.K.-based unmanned aircraft maker Ascenta.

The drone is just one element in the company's master plan to improve Internet access, which also includes satellites and data-carrying laser beams. But it might be the most awe-inspiring.

"If you think about these little quadcopters, that's not what we're building," said Jay Parikh, Facebook's global head of engineering, during a talk on the status of the company's efforts at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on Thursday.

The plane's entire surface is covered with solar panels. It's meant to stay up in the air for three months at a time, at an altitude between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. That's above commercial airlines and above the weather. It could potentially provide Internet access to people in a 50 kilometer radius, Facebook says.

Facebook has been flying scale models of the plane at altitudes of less than 400 feet. After on-the-ground testing, the company is now close to being able to launch the Aquila for a test flight, possibly at a location in the U.S., Parikh said.

The plane itself will receive Internet connectivity from a free space optical communication system, or lasers, also developed by Facebook. The lasers use light to transmit data through space. In this case, the laser system will beam an Internet signal to the plane from the ground.

Facebook claims to have reached an historical milestone with its laser system: It's capable of beaming data at the rate of tens of gigabits per second.

That rate, and higher rates, is routine for the fiber optics in data centers. But to achieve that rate through space and air, "it's never been done before," said Yael Maguire, Facebook's engineering director of connectivity.

With its aircraft, Facebook would be entering the skies as they are poised to become more crowded with devices made by other companies like Amazon and Google. Just this week, Amazon proposed a drone superhighway.

Google, meanwhile, has developed balloons to beam down LTE cellular signals. They're meant to fly in Facebook's desired zone, between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. The company so far has launched at least hundreds of test balloons, and it's close to launching thousands.

During the talk, Facebook engineers said they still need to sort out the regulatory issues involved in flying Aquila.

For Facebook, Google's existing presence in the stratosphere looms large. To launch, Aquila will require a helium balloon, which will get it above commercial airspace quicker, Facebook engineers said.

They didn't say whether Aquila would rise above Google's balloons.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com


Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Internet-based applications and servicessocial mediainternetsearch enginesInternet service providersFacebook

Featured

Slideshows

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours

The channel came together for another round of After Hours, with a bumper crowd of distributors, vendors and partners descending on The Jefferson in Auckland. Photos by Maria Stefina.​

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours
Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland

Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland

Emerging start-up Consegna has officially launched its cloud offerings in the New Zealand market, through a kick-off event held at Seafarers Building in Auckland.​ Founded in June 2016, the Auckland-based business is backed by AWS and supported by a global team of cloud specialists, leveraging global managed services partnerships with Rackspace locally.

Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland
Veritas honours top performing trans-Tasman partners

Veritas honours top performing trans-Tasman partners

Veritas honoured its top performing partners across the channel in Australia and New Zealand, recognising innovation and excellence on both sides of the Tasman. Revealed under the Vivid lights in Sydney, Intalock claimed the coveted Partner of the Year 2017 (Pacific) award, with Data#3 acknowledged for 12 months of strong growth across the market. Meanwhile, Datacom took home the New Zealand honours, with Global Storage and Insentra winning service provider and consulting awards respectively. Dicker Data was recognised as the standout distributor of the year, while Hitachi Data Systems claimed the alliance partner award. Photos by Bob Seary.

Veritas honours top performing trans-Tasman partners
Show Comments