Facebook started working on a solar-powered drone four years back. The main purpose of the drone was to provide internet in remote areas through a “High Altitude Platform Station”. It is an aircraft with multiple transmitters, which allow the users in remote areas to access the internet. The aircraft had solar cells so that it can stay suspended in the air using solar power instead of fossil fuel. The basic objective of the drone is to ensure that communication in these areas does not break.
Facebook tested the drone in 2016, however it turned out to be a failure. Later on, in July 2017, the drone was tested again where it successfully remained in the air for almost 2 hours. The CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg said, “When Aquila is ready, it will be a fleet of solar-powered planes that will beam internet connectivity across the world.” Now the company has decided to turn down the project and has quoted it “impractical”. A blog posted by Yael Maguire, the director of engineering on Facebook’s coding sub-site, said that when Facebook started the project, the aviation companies also started to take interest in it. Airbus is collaborating with Facebook to take the program further and build a High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS). Facebook is parting ways from manufacturing of the aircraft itself, however, it will still work to develop the technical side of the project.
Maguire said in the blog post, “HAPS connectivity requires more than just an aircraft. We’ve made important progress on some of the other key parts of the system — including setting new records using millimeter-wave (MMW) technology in air-to-ground and point-to-point communication. And then we more than doubled our MMW record with 40 Gbps connectivity simultaneously in both directions from a ground location to a circling Cessna aircraft over 7 kilometers away.” Facebook will continue to develop HAPS and its prerequisites like high-capacity batteries and signal transmitters and receivers. According to them, “Connectivity for everyone is a great challenge”. The development of HAPS will play a significant role in combatting this challenge so that the worldwide communication can be made easier.
Facebook is shutting down its aircraft development facility in Bridgewater, UK. Reports claim that the closure of the facility will cause nearly 16 people to directly go unemployed while many will also be affected indirectly. Facebook is stressing on the fact that the only component they will take away is the manufacturing of the aircraft in favor of outsourcing production to actual aviation companies. The potential delay in the public release of the HAPS system might cause an inconvenience for people who are living in remote areas and want to get connected with the rest of the world through the internet.