Facebook Inc tested one of its most exciting new technologies last month, but it’s not anything advertisers will be interested in. In a quiet part of the Arizona desert it managed its first successful drone launch and flight. The firm’s solar powered drone is a part of its massive long term strategy.
The central question facing Facebook is: “With two billion users, how are we going to increase our reach?” CEO Mark Zuckerberg is betting that an energy neutral autonomous flying vehicle is going to be at the very center of that effort.
The firm announced that the drone had completed a test flight with the drone back in June. It said that the drone stayed in the air for a whopping 96 minutes, much more than the half-hour the team had planned for.
Solar powered flight, brought to you by Facebook
Facebook isn’t bothered with just any old drone. The firm is developing something that seemed impossible just a few years ago: flight powered by the sun. That’s the key advantage its network of free internet will have over the competition.
Aquila, as the drone is called, is a truly massive development. It has a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 and yet weights just about 1,000 pounds. Facebook says its always looking for ways to make the machine more power efficient, lighter and more autonomous.
Mark Zuckerberg, in a statement on his pet project, said “When Aquila is ready, it will be a fleet of solar-powered planes that will beam internet connectivity across the world.”
That’s a dream for the Facebook Inc business model. The firm, in terms of earnings, is an ad network. It sells targeted campaigns based on the user data that it has collected. If it can control the network, and expand it far beyond its current reach, it could spark a massive spike in growth.
Right now, it seems, those following Facebook stock on Wall Street aren’t forecasting much growth from the drone project.
Facebook stock isn’t a prize winner
Despite the firm’s massive plans for future growth, shares in Facebook Inc haven’t been the best performers in recent weeks. Over the last month stock has fallen by a fraction after a massive rise since the start of the year.
Because of pressures on tech firms, and the stock market in general, shares in the Menlo Park firm have underperformed expectations.
The solar powered drone is key to the firm’s next billion strategy. With two billion members, the firm has just about pushed its reach across everywhere that has decent internet connectivity. It can’t reach the next few billion humans, because they simply can’t access networks reliably.
This technology is about the firm’s long term future. It’s also about the advantage it can hold over Alphabet Inc , and other rivals.
As a result you shouldn’t expect to see a Facebook drone in your local enthusiast store any time soon. Not least because they’re far too big. The firm is going to be pushing hard to put these drones into the sky all over the world in the coming years, but the tech isn’t likely to have much impact on the firm’s share price. At least not until the network is all set to be turned on.