Facebook Inc has successfully tested a solar-powered drone, which is part of the social networking giant’s plans to bring affordable broadband Internet connectivity in the developing countries. Aquila, a solar-powered airplane, is designed to bring internet to around 4 billion people (60% of the global population) who don’t have an access to the affordable internet. As many as 1.6 billion of those unconnected people live in remote locations with no access to mobile broadband networks.
Facebook Internet Drone
Facebook said that as many as 1.6 billion people live in remote locations with no access to mobile broadband networks and where implementing existing network technologies is challenging and costly. The social networking company formed the Connectivity Lab to address this issue. The Connectivity Lab is working and testing new technologies — including aircraft, satellites, and wireless communications systems — to provide internet in remote locations around the world. The company believes that “Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities and experiences to all of us.”
On Thursday, Connectivity Lab completed the first full-scale test flight of solar-powered Aquila that can be used to bring affordable internet to hundreds of millions of people in the hardest-to-reach places.
Aquila can circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter wave systems. The aircraft is able to fly for up to three months at a time. Aquila has the wingspan of an airliner, but it will consume only 5,000 watts at a cruising speed. This means that the aircraft’s energy consumption is equal to the power consumed by three hair dryers or a high-end microwave.
“We’ve been flying a one-fifth scale version of Aquila for several months, but this was the first time we’ve flown the full-scale aircraft. This test flight was designed to verify our operational models and overall aircraft design. To prove out the full capacity of the design, we will push Aquila to the limits in a lengthy series of tests in the coming months and years. Failures are expected and sometimes even planned; we learn more when we push the plane to the brink,” Facebook Inc said.
More Tests Will Be Conducted
Facebook said that the first low-altitude flight worked so well that its engineers decided to let it fly for 96 minutes. In its next tests, Connectivity Lab plans to fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet.
“We’re encouraged by this first successful flight, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. In fact, to reach our goal of being able to fly over a remote region and deliver connectivity for up to three months at time, we will need to break the world record for solar-powered unmanned flight, which currently stands at two weeks. This will require significant advancements in science and engineering to achieve. It will also require us to work closely with operators, governments and other partners to deploy these aircraft in the regions where they’ll be most effective,” the company said on a blog post.
Facebook is doing quite well. On Wednesday, the shares of the social media giant hit an all-time high. Now, the social networking site is worth about $350bn, and from their initial offering price of $38 in 2012, the shares are up by more than 200% now. It would not be a surprise if sometime in the “future,” the firm is worth $1 trillion, notes a report from Paul R. La Monica of CNN.